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Commemorating Pólya as Communicator

Exposition: “the act of explaining something: clear explanation . . . Discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.”––Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In recognition of the importance of good exposition to the SIAM community, SIAM has reconfigured the longstanding George Pólya Prize. Long awarded every other year to recognize outstanding work in, alternately, combinatorics and other mathematical interests of George Pólya, the Pólya Prize is now an annual prize. Every odd-numbered year, beginning in 2015, the Pólya Prize will recognize outstanding exposition. In even-numbered years, the prize will continue to alternate between combinatorial and other mathematical research. The amount that will be awarded in any year is $10,000.

In a recent blog post about the new prize, SIAM executive director Jim Crowley points out that SIAM Review and SIAM News, natural homes for good expository writing, always welcome new submissions. The George Pólya Prize for Mathematical Exposition, as described at www.siam.org,

“may be given for a specific work or for the cumulative impact of multiple expository works that communicate mathematics effectively. The nature of the work may range from popular accounts of mathematics and mathematical discovery to pedagogy to systematic organization of mathematical knowledge.”

David Keyes, whose responsibilities as SIAM vice president at large (2006–2009) included oversight of the SIAM prizes, was instrumental in the “partitioning and refocusing” of the Pólya Prize, motivated in part by his admiration for what is probably George Pólya’s best-known example of expository excellence. As Keyes wrote to SIAM News:

“My fondness for Pólya’s writings originates from his book How to Solve It, which was one of the first that I ordered for the KAUST library. How many math books have sold more than a million copies or been translated into so many languages? One of SIAM’s most practical contributions to the profession could be to inspire us to produce more manuscripts like Pólya’s that endear math to the masses. This prize could help solve a daunting problem in STEM education. As Pólya himself said: ‘If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it!’ Congratulations, SIAM. You found one.”

At SIAM News, we can’t think of a better setting than the “post-Annual Meeting” issue to draw readers’ attention to the new prize. As shown in photos throughout this issue, the 2014 SIAM Annual Meeting, held in Chicago, July 7–11, offered abundant examples of outstanding communication in many forms––from the I.E. Block Community Lecture to the 2014 John von Neumann Lecture, and from the “poster blitz” to talks given by recipients of best-paper prizes. 

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