Dr Irma Pallarés Torres is a postdoctoral researcher in mathematics, based at KU Leuven, a research university in the city of Leuven, Belgium. In her Soapbox talk, she introduces what a singularity is, as well as the job of a pure mathematician and its importance for the advancement of other sciences. The title of her talk is “Why is the universe a mathematical place?”, and it will take place at 2pm on Saturday 24th June 2023 at Carrefour de l’Europe, Brussels.
“I often have to expand my knowledge to tackle a mathematical question, which makes my research as beautiful as it is laborious.”
Perfect and mysterious
My love for science has been with me for as long as I can remember. My father used to tell me stories about cosmology and mathematics: I cannot imagine my face after hearing that there were infinities bigger than others! Although I liked all sciences, in high school I found something special in mathematics — I thought it was really perfect and mysterious.
All my teachers were women until I got to university, and having them as female role models helped me to have confidence in myself and not to be afraid of pursuing a career that had a reputation for being too difficult. So I thought: “One day, I could be a mathematician!”
I studied mathematics at the University of Valencia, Spain. During the first few months, I remember asking myself: “Where is the high school mathematics?” Mathematics at university was like being in another world. This mathematics consisted of a lot of symbols, letters, logic and rigour. The beauty of abstraction in mathematics, and pure mathematics captivated me!
After finishing a master’s degree in mathematical research at the same university, I moved to Bilbao, Spain, to start a PhD in pure mathematics on the beautiful topic of ‘Singularity Theory and Algebraic Geometry’ at the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics. Currently, I reside in Belgium as a FWO (Research Foundation Flanders) postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven, a research university in the city of Leuven, to the east of Brussels.
My tools: Pen and paper
Essentially, pure mathematics is concerned with understanding and developing the underlying concepts and principles of mathematics. One of the advantages of being a researcher in pure mathematics is that with a pen and some paper, I have enough to work with all day long. I often have to expand my knowledge to tackle a mathematical question, which makes my research as beautiful as it is laborious. But one thing that can happen on any given day is that ideas pop up at the most unexpected moments. Whenever this happens, it is amazing!
I really enjoy collaborating with other researchers and I try to find some time to work with them each week. This is not always in person, so I often travel to different cities and countries to work with other researchers. Throughout the year I attend and participate in conferences in different countries, where I have the opportunity to present my work and exchange ideas with other mathematicians; these events are always a lot of fun! In addition, I also teach at the university.
A fascination with singularities
My research focuses on the study of geometric shapes containing special points called singularities. Geometry is one of the oldest areas of mathematics, motivated by modelling the physical world. The circle and the sphere are so-called smooth shapes, and although smooth shapes arise in nature in a significant way, another incredible phenomenon unavoidably appears, the singularities.
The first thing that drew me to research on this topic was my bachelor’s project, in which singularities appeared in a significant way. I still remember the day my supervisor explained to me what a singularity of a geometric shape was, I became fascinated, and at that moment I decided to focus my research on the study of singularities.
More viewpoints and perspectives
Increasingly, research is conducted through collaborations between different researchers and the success this brings to science is evident.
Greater diversity of thought in science means that more viewpoints are considered and more perspectives are taken into account, leading to a more complex and robust understanding of scientific phenomena. If this is not taken into account in areas such as STEM, science would be closing the door to the possibility of great achievements.
Bringing mathematics closer
I discovered Soapbox Science thanks to the Department of Mathematics at KU Leuven, which announced the Soapbox Science event in Brussels. I thought it would be an amazing opportunity, so I did not hesitate for a second to apply as a speaker!
I think that talking on the streets is an effective way of bringing mathematics closer to people. But also to show that, although there are very few women researchers in pure mathematics, there are, and if this can help girls and young women to decide to take up mathematics I would be very happy.
In my Soapbox Science talk, we will discuss in a fun way what a singularity is, as well as the job of a pure mathematician and its importance for the advancement of other sciences. The talk will be interactive and the audience will be able to discover the fascinating world of singularities and pure mathematics through their own experience.
I really appreciate this opportunity to share my history on the path of mathematics as well as to announce my talk at Soapbox Science in Brussels. I strongly believe that it is very important to have female role models for future generations to study or work in STEM areas. So, I sincerely thank the Womanthology team for their strong support of women scientists to achieve a more equitable world.
A new stage
I have just over two years ahead of me as a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven. Since I started my PhD studies I have felt very committed to the struggle for a more equitable world, so after Soapbox I want to continue to be active in these kinds of activities and share with girls and women the beauty of the mathematics I work on.
After this period in Belgium, I would like to look for a more stable position. The compatibility between research and family life for women scientists remains a challenge. I feel that I am starting a new stage in my career, the stage when quite a few women scientists are considering whether to start a family or to continue research, unfortunately. However, I am eager to move forward despite the difficulties I may encounter in the future.
Giving visibility and support to female scientists not only helps girls and young women but also female scientists at all career stages.