Rich Nizhny Novgorod’s soil

A research conference organized by students

The conference Topological Methods in Dynamical systems and related topics starts on Monday, 2nd of August, in the center of Nizhny Novgorod, with an opening speech by Olga Pochinka. In the room full of Russian-speaking mathematicians (some of which came from Unites States, Canada and France), Olga wishes to everybody a wonderful stay in Nizhny Novgorod (which celebrates its 800 years in a couple of weeks), taking pleasure from person-to-person exchange. For most of the participants in the room this conference is the first one they attend in person after one and a half year of pandemic. The talks start right away, with topics ranging from integrable systems to interval exchange transformations and their generalizations, to chaotic dynamics and attractors, with applications in celestial mechanics and mathematical neuroscience. Several mathematicians in the audience are very active and ask their questions “russian style” — some of the talks become dialogues (or polylogues…) rather than monologues and presentations. Atmosphere is more than lively.

This conference is organized, for the fourth time, by the International Laboratory of Dynamical Systems and Applications of Higher School of Economics in Nizhny Novgorod. Since 2016 and the foundation and the laboratory, Olga Pochinka is its director. Olga’s warm welcome speech is characteristic of the friendly approach of the laboratory to anybody who comes visit or wants to study mathematics here.

All the practical details of the conference are completely under control of the “young generation”. Students of the mathematical faculty of HSE give out the badges, put in place excursions and help the speakers to download their slides.

We are happy to help! It helps us to feel connected to research as early as possible in our studies, and practice our organization skills!”

It is wonderful here in Nizhny Nogorod, and we do not need to leave anywhere else to do a PhD  — everything is in place here to do research on a very high level.”

Rich Nizhny Novgorod’s soil

The conference feels as a meeting of one big family. It is hard to point out why exactly some conferences feel so welcoming. Small gestures certainly matter. At the conference celebratory buffet, Olga Pochinka makes a tour of the room in order to speak to everybody and clink glasses with them. It is quite a physical exercise since not many people drink juice in the room!..

After the buffet, a crowd of mathematicians gets out to the streets for a city tour. Once the official guide leaves, Olga takes over the excursion giving a mathematical feel to it. Olga guides us to the building where the first Dynamical Systems Laboratory in the city was established by Alexander Andronov. A young student from Moscow State University says he has never heard of him — Olga is surprised since all the students at their lab know very well who Andronov was: the founder of oscillation theory. Alexander Lyapunov (founder of stability theory) and Nikolai Bogolyubov (physicist, author of Krylov-Bogolyubov theorem) also worked here, and Vladimir Steklov was born in Niznhy Novgorod. That’s how rich our Nizhny Novgorod’s soil is!,” says Olga with joy and admiration. 

One of the researchers at the faculty, Grigory Polotovsky, created a map with all mathematics-related places in Nizny Novgorod — this map takes the whole wall of the Laboratory. Olga points to us what is written about the building where their Laboratory is situated :

One of the buildings of Higher School of Economics in Nizhny Novgorod — at the present time it is an only place in the region where the attempt is made to purposefully prepare specialists in fundamental mathematics.

Mathematics continues to grow and prosper on the rich Nizhny Novgorod’s soil.

The best thing in the world

The laboratory of Dynamical students has fifteen PhD students at this time, five of them work with Olga Pochinka. One of them, Marina Barinova, today Olga’s PhD student, works on the problems of existence of energy functions for diffeomorphisms with chaotic dynamics.

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It is a funny story how I got into writing a dissertation. In the beginning, I wanted to teach since I love teaching. Vyacheslav Zigmundovich, with whom I wanted to work on my PhD in parallel to teaching, didn’t accept my teaching aspirations. He thinks that one has to work on one own’s research all the time. So I left mathematics and worked in machine learning at Intel for several years. I was earning well my life, we even managed to buy a flat with my husband. But I got bored at this job very quickly. Mathematics is more interesting for me than programming. Abstract things marvel me. And I know for sure that something more concrete is much less interesting to me — I tried it. I feel that for me, thinking about a mathematical problem is the best thing in the world.”

After several years, Marina left Intel and started her PhD under supervision of Olga Pochinka. “It is easier for me to work with Olga Vitalyevna” Marina says. “I am not afraid to say that I do not understand something with her. I could do it with Vyacheslav Zigmundovich too, but maybe two or three times in a row — then, I wouldn’t dare ask him the same question all over again. With Olga Vitalyevna, I can say it fifteen times in a row, and she would be patient enough and explain it to me every time!” 

Olga and Vyacheslav

When Olga’s daughter was born in 2009, she was working together with Vyacheslav Grines on their book Dynamical systems on 2- and 3- manifolds.

Picture from the personal archive of Olga Pochinka — playing music together with Vyacheslav Grines

We had a very strong mathematical tradition for us two, we would be together with Vyacheslav Zigmundovich from morning till night and write something and think together. The work on the book was even more intense. One day before me giving birth, we would continue working together every day, walk to the university, discuss something. But in the middle of our writing of our book, I gave birth. When my daughter was five days old, Vyacheslav Zigmundovich came to our house, he would sit with her, sing lullabies to her, and I would write something, and we would discuss. Thanks to my daughter, she was calm enough so we had such a possibility!  It was, from his side, such a scientific heroic feat — otherwise I would disappear from mathematical work completely. When you can’t permit yourself to work in a concentrated way, not to go anywhere — the baby is really small, it needs her mother anyway. So Vyacheslav Zigmundovich really saved me. Every God’s day he would come to me by foot. He would cook something, and make my daughter sleep. I am so thankful to him. He is for me a great example — that a man could do something like that, never let me disappear from math.”

Gospel before sleep, dissertation instead of it!

Marina has a boy who is two years old today, and finding the time to do research is not as easy. “We try to adjust with my husband. He has taken a leave from work for all the conference week so I could profit from the talks! We joke about this with my husband… I have already earned the money for the flat, so now it’s his time to feed the family. And it’s my time to think about mathematics!” Excellence is not possible when you spend a lot of time of the day with your son, but Marina doesn’t look for it. “I have stopped only having excellent notes when I became a mother of the family”, Marina laughs.

Marina usually comes to work at Olga’s house, she can’t work at home, she says. Olga prefers to think alone but she is not surprised by Marina’s approach since her supervisor, Vyacheslav Grines, has the same one — he loves to work together and discuss. Moreover, Olga’s husband and her twelve-year old daughter are happy to have guests! “Once, Marina says, Olga’s daughter Zlata was working on her math homework at the same time I was thinking on our common work with Olga. And Olga would come to her and say — so, did you solve your problem? And her daughter was like — and Mom, did you solve yours?… That’s been five years that Olga Vitalyevna has been working on it, and I have joined her for the last two… — not the same pace exactly!..”.

Marina got interested in religion recently when she noticed many adequate and wonderful people around her who believed in God, she says. “I thought — if Olga Vitalyevna believes in God, this means there is something about it, and I should look into it. I went to speak to a priest recently, I warned him that I wanted to come to a church in jeans and without a handkerchief on my head, but it was fine with him. He is very open. We have spent several hours talking… Now I am reading Gospel before going to sleep !”, Marina says. Olga asks, “And what about writing your dissertation?… —  I am writing dissertation not before but instead of sleep!,” Marina says and they both laugh, student and supervisor.

Guessing His ideas

Olga has two sons and a daughter. Her elder son Arseny is now finishing the Seminary, and, as Olga says, has convinced her of presence of God.

At the beginning, it seems contradictory — ‘how is it possible to believe in God and do science today?!’ But it is a completely idiotic statement, and I speak about myself too — I also thought like that in the beginning… I would forbid myself thinking about these two things at the same time. But when you believe for yourself, and you know the answer to yourself (and I know for myself now), you do not need to think. Life is much easier.

And this doesn’t prevent you from doing mathematics, not at all. In my understanding that’s how it combines. God has created all of it, and he allows a man to, roughly speaking, guess His ideas. Science is a great thing that lets us to know what God has created. That’s how I see — and that’s why it’s easy and simple for me. I do not feel any contradiction in my heart, and feel myself completely comfortable. 

My life went a completely different direction from the moment I have felt faith. Of course, I am a bad parishioner — I do not fast, do not follow many rules but I have something inside me that changed me. It also changed my brother, and my elder son. My husband is Jewish, and of course, it was very difficult in the beginning. But now he says ‘Lyusenka, that’s been a long time you haven’t gone to church…’  As a wise man he understood that faith is a great gift for our family.

Olga has invited us to have a lunch with all her family — her young daughter Zlata, her son Arseny who finished Seminary and recently got married, with his wife Anna,  and Olga’s younger son Pavel who is finishing his studies at the mathematical faculty now. “Be prepared, they have lots of humor!”, Olga said to us before entering the door.

All the family was there together, exchanging and playing with each other — Zlata lives with her parents, Arseny lives in Moscow now with Anna, and Pavel has his own flat on the other end of Nizhny, so the family doesn’t have so many occasions to fully reunite. “I am very thankful that you came, like this I managed to make all my family to be home!” Everybody was there, except for Olga’s husband. “Somebody has to work in the middle of the day!”, laughed Olga. Arseny has read a prayer and we proceeded to eat a delicious duck, Olga’s favorite dish from childhood. Olga’s children asked us about the project of the exhibition, and made many jokes on all subjects of life.

It is very rare to meet a family the first time and feel welcome, and not feel obligation to hold a conversation at the table. It was just good to be there, and watch all of them interact with each other. I felt that there was some reuniting and good presence in that house.

So that’s you who are making an exhibition about our Mom? Let’s make a picture all together — we want to be there with her!”