Giáo sư Neal Koblitz (khoa toán Đại học Washington) là một người được nhiều người Việt Nam biết đến, đặc biệt là trong giới khoa học. Ông sang Việt Nam lần đầu tiên năm 1978 và tiếp tục gắn bó với Việt Nam đến bây giờ. Ông cùng với vợ, GS Ann Koblitz (Arizona State University), là người sáng lập ra quỹ Kovalevskaya; quỹ này hàng năm trao giải thưởng Kovalevskaya cho những phụ nữ xuất sắc trong khoa học. Quỹ này hoạt động tại Việt Nam, Cuba, Mexico và một số nước khác.
Sau khi GS Ngô Bảo Châu được huy chương Fields, GS Koblitz đã có một cuộc phỏng vấn. Cuộc phỏng vấn này được đăng trên The Mathematical Intelligencer, 33, 46 (2011). Bài báo đề cập đến nhiều vấn đề, trong đó có Viện Toán Cao cấp, giáo dục ở Việt Nam, vai trò của phụ nữ trong toán học, v.v. Tôi thấy nó không đơn thuần là một cuộc phỏng vấn, mà có thể coi là một cuộc đối thoại giữa hai nhà khoa học có nhiều gắn bó với Việt Nam. Tiếc rằng bài báo này không đọc miễn phí được, trừ khi thư viện của bạn đặt mua. Tôi xin trích lại ở đây một số đoạn ngắn trong cuộc phỏng vấn:
NK: Deputy Prime Minister Nguyễn Thiện Nhân has said that he hopes that you will become the head of the new Advanced Mathematics Institute in Hanoi that is being planned. Will you agree to take on this responsibility?
NBC: There will be a Board of Directors, and it seems likely that I will serve on it.
NK: What are the objectives of the new institute, and how will it be different from the Hanoi Mathematical Institute?
NBC: We will try to attract Vietnamese mathematicians from abroad as well as mathematicians of other nationalities to our institute to work on projects, with preference for joint projects with Vietnamese mathematicians. The visits can be for 3 months, 6 months, or a year. There will be no permanent members except for the Board of Directors.
NK: Traditionally, Vietnam has been much stronger in the theoretical areas of mathematics than in the applied areas. What should be done to improve research in applied areas? How much of the focus of the new institute will be on applied research?
NBC: We will very much welcome joint projects between mathematicians and researchers in related areas such as computer science, theoretical physics, biology, economics, and so on.
NK: Often the most competitive international applicants to U.S. Ph.D. programs are students who have already obtained a Masters degree in their own country. But Vietnam does not support strong Masters level programs in mathematics. For example, Masters students cannot easily find financial support for their studies. Are there any plans to expand Masters programs in mathematics at Vietnamese universities (with financial support for students), and will the new Advanced Mathematics Institute give Masters degrees?
NBC: I agree that it is very important to develop good Masters level programs in Vietnam. We already have an International Masters program run jointly by the Institute of Mathematics and the Hanoi Pedagogical University (HPU). We recruit around 20 students each year. They spend the first year in Hanoi and the second year in Europe, and are supported by fellowships from the Ministry of Education. Upon graduation they are granted Masters degrees from the European university where they spend their second year. We would love also to be able to grant them our own Masters degrees, but this is impossible under the current administrative rules. The new Advanced Mathematics Institute will not have its own Masters program, but obviously we will encourage its members to give lectures in the existing Masters programs as well as participate at a modest level in the undergraduate programs at VNU and HPU.
NK: In an interview with the Vietnamese newspaper Tuổi Trẻ, you said that one of your top priorities will be giving opportunities to young people. However, at present there are very few activities in Vietnam that put senior Vietnamese scientists in direct informal contact with young people. When in school and even at the university, Vietnamese students have very little idea of what it’s like to be a researcher. They do not have role models, unless their own parents are scientists. The danger is that the youth will be influenced entirely by imported youth culture that comes from the mass media, and will not carry on the scholarly, scientific, and mathematical traditions of Vietnam’s older generations. What ideas do you have for transmitting these traditions to the younger generation, and stimulating their desire to lead the life of a mathematician or scientist?
NBC: I agree with you that we need to do more to popularize science to the younger generation, either by direct contact or through the mass media. I have been agreeably surprised to find that the Vietnamese mass media are quite receptive to our message.