Lisbeth Fajstrup

  • Born inDenmark
  • Studied inDenmark
  • Lives inDenmark


Lisbeth Fajstrup , an Associate Professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences of Aalborg University , Denmark  is a fine mathematician and an editor of a hugely popular Danish blog about mathematics. She ihas been elected  EWM deputy convenor at the 15 th EWM general meeting in Barcelona in 2011. See also her interview in  EWM Newsletter no. 19 (2011/2).

Here is Lisbeth contribution

My first EWM-meeting was in Warszaw in 1993, and I was at the meeting in Trieste in 1997, in Loccum, Germany 1999 and then this year, 2007 in Cambridge. I enjoyed these meetings very much, the friendly atmosphere, the really serious mathematics introduced to the general audience, these wonderful women who all do mathematics and love the subject – I always leave with new energy. So, right now I am wondering why on earth I did not go to more of these meetings, but then again, there were other things asking for my attention.

I was born March 8, 1960 (On the International Women’s Day) in Denmark.
I am married and have two daughters born in September 91, and December 94.
My parents are not academics, but we have always been a family that read books, and I did well at school, in fact in most of the subjects. In high school, I met a wonderful Math teacher and realized that Mathematics was a very different thing from what I had seen in primary school, and I enjoyed it and did well.
I studied at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. Luckily for me, the university or the Math department could not afford to hire students as instructors, which meant that Ib Madsen, who was by then an associate professor, was my Linear Algebra instructor and he followed our “class” as Algebra instructor the following year, and Curves and Surfaces instructor after that. He supervised my master thesis (on Gauge theory and group actions) and persuaded me to apply for a PhD scholarship, which to my enormous surprise, I actually got.
Ib Madsen supervised my thesis as well, and I worked in the area of equivariant stable homotopy and homology theory for some years. In 1995, I went together with my colleague at the University of Aalborg , Martin Raussen, to a conference “New connections between Mathematics and Computer Science” at the Newton Institute in Cambridge, and there I met Eric Goubault, a French computer scientist, whom I and Martin Raussen have been working with ever since in the area of applying geometric and topological methods to problems in concurrency. It is very fascinating to be developing a new area, and also quite a challenge to be working between fields.

These days I am very involved in a project related to the TV-series, Numb3rs. It is a CBS-production, which is now on its fourth season in the US. The main characters are two brothers – one is a mathematician and the other is an FBI-agent. And they apply mathematics to solving crime. The mathematics is quite serious and the crime solving part plus the relationship between the characters is so fascinating, that people actually watch the show enough to keep it on the air now for the fourth season. Hence, lots of people hear words like the Riemann hypothesis, Markov Chains, partial differential equation etc., and they do not switch to another channel! It is really well done. And mathematicians are hired as consultants to give ideas and make sure that what they say is correct.

When this was coming to a Danish TV-channel last fall, we decided at my department, that we wanted to give people a chance to learn more about the math from the show. There is already a blog
doing this in English, but we find it important to give Danish viewers information in Danish.
So, every Wednesday night at 8 pm I am ready in front of my TV, and when the show stops at 9, I post an entrance on the blog about the math in that day’s episode. This takes quite a lot of preparation, since the mathematics will often be something I don’t know very much about; and even when I do know it, it is not easy to communicate it to the general audience at high school level, which is the target audience for the blog. So, I have to think about it.

In April and May we had 18000 visits on the blog each month, and this is after we subtracted a lot of web-crawlers. Our visitors come from more than 7500 sites each month, so we are quite happy with it. In May, I got money from the Danish National Science Foundation to buy me off some of my teaching in order to give me time to do this. And actually it does take time to do this. But on the other hand, I am learning so much – and I really do enjoy that. Last week, it was Benfords Law, which you can look up in Wikipedia, if you do not understand Danish…
By the way: Searching for Numb3rs in Google gives relevant results because number 3 in there.