Tobias Holck Colding

Portrait of the recipient of the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize 2016

What is your primary field of research?

I mainly do research in geometry and differential equations. I have for example researched soap film – what shape do they take and why?

What are the challenges of and prospects for your research?

Soap film is an area that has fascinated mathematicians for almost three centuries. The fascination began with the Swiss mathematician Euler and his Italian-French student Lagrange in the early eighteenth century. The techniques that have been developed through the ages to understand and describe soap films and soap bubbles have found application in many other fields, but it is only in recent years that we have achieved a complete understanding. I have researched how surfaces develop over time if affected by natural forces such as surface tension. Many of the same principles that are responsible for the development of surfaces over time are also responsible for changes in many other structures.

I have also worked quite a lot on the geometry that made Einstein's theory of general relativity possible. Mathematicians originally developed the geometry more than half a century before Einstein established his theories, and they were what Einstein used to formulate his theory. More recently, I have been interested in exchange of opinions between groups of people and especially how long it takes to reach agreement. Exchange of opinions is studied in economics, social science, electrical engineering, computer science and statistical physics. Almost anything can be modelled with mathematics. With research, one often finds surprising structures and useful properties.

How did you get into your field of research?

My interest in mathematics began in Vartov kindergarten in the city of Copenhagen and continued at Zahle's School at Nørreport Station. My interest in my own research field was slightly coincidental. Geometry was natural for me to study because it was the dominating area at the University of Pennsylvania, where I took my PhD after I started as a student at the University of Copenhagen. At the University of Copenhagen, they suggested I move to America to do my Ph.D instead of doing my Master’s Degree in Denmark. Later, after my PhD, I was an instructor at New York University's Courant Institute. Most students at the Courant Institute have always been dealing with differential equations, and it therefore seemed natural to do the same.

What does it mean to you to receive the Carlsberg Foundation Research Award?

It is a great honour to receive the Carlsberg Foundation Research Award and I look forward to utilizing the resources that follows the award to form closer ties with the Danish research environment.

It has very special meaning to me to receive the Carlsberg Foundation Research Award as I was born and raised in the apartment where Carl Jacobsen lived. J.C. Jacobsen and his son Carl played a significant role in my parents' home where the Jacobsen family’s generosity for art and science always inspired us.

Private background: family relationships, hobbies, etc.

Other than math, my interests range wide. They include, among other things, art, architecture, culture, politics, history, gastronomy and economy.