Listening to Ravi Vakil talk about math is like hearing a painter speak about art. To Vakil, math is an aesthetic discipline in which his purpose is to seek beauty—the beauty of finding structures in patterns in nature, of simplifying grand concepts, and drawing connections.
With his distinctive blend of creativity and technique, Vakil has become a rising star in the field of algebraic geometry, a subject that combines abstract algebra with the terms and problems of geometry. Despite the complexity of his work, which is linked to other fields including number theory and physics, Vakil maintains a sense of playfulness. At recent public seminars, for example, he lectured on the sophisticated mathematics of doodling.
Over the years, Vakil’s energy and passion for math have earned him a reputation as a beloved teacher. In addition to teaching the core algebra sequence, calculus, and advanced graduate courses at Stanford, he works extensively with local high school students to inspire a love of math.
Whether he’s scribbling on the chalkboard with a graduate scholar or using a pineapple to illustrate Fibonacci numbers to teenagers, Vakil encourages his students to approach math creatively. His goal as a teacher is not to show them the answers, but rather to motivate them to grapple with challenging questions.