The mural saluting world-renowned mathematician Robert Langlands is located at the entrance to the Mathematics Wing at Semiahmoo Secondary. Alex Browne photo

Semiahmoo mural honours famed grad Robert Langlands

World-renowned mathematician subject of new artwork at the school

One of Semiahmoo Secondary’s most famous grads – world-renowned mathematician Robert Langlands (Class of ’53) – was celebrated at the unveiling of a mural at the school Friday before a select group of school staff, family members, other Semiahmoo grads of the 1950s and distinguished visitors.

The mural, located at the entrance to the South Surrey high school’s math wing, is a combination of text and a life-sized enlargement of a photo of the former Princeton and Yale professor, standing before chalk diagrams on a classroom blackboard. Created by graphic designer Ria Kawaguchi, it features highlights of Langlands career and a timeline of his accomplishments.

Unveiling the mural was Semiahmoo mathematics teacher Brian Clunas, who told the small gathering that he had been motivated to seek funding for a mural after reading an article about Langlands in the Peace Arch News last year.

Langlands credits his time at Semiahmoo Secondary with changing his path in life. While he had intended to leave high school “as soon as I could,” a teacher encouraged him to go to university, Langlands told PAN in a 2018 interview.

“For various reasons… I took his remarks seriously.”

Langlands first caught the world’s attention in 1967, at age 31, when he suggested that two previously unlinked fields of mathematics were indeed connected – insights he outlined in a 17-page letter to French mathematician André Weil.

He has been at the Institute for Advanced Study’s School for Mathematics (which is in Princeton, N.J., but not part of Princeton University) since 1972, and is best known as the founder of the Langlands program, a large series of conjectures and results linking several theories, which won him the Abel Prize – the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize – in 2018.

READ MORE: Semiahmoo Secondary alumnus celebrated as mathematical ‘visionary’

READ MORE: Shatner, Obomsawin among 39 inductees to Order of Canada today

Last fall, he was made a companion of the Order of Canada; one of the country’s highest civilian honours, recognizing “national pre-eminence or international service or achievement.”

Among those attending Friday’s ceremony were Langlands’ sister Mary McArthur and niece Robyn Albert; his close friend, UBC professor emeritus Bill Casselman; Semiahmoo principal James Johnston; Dr. Melania Alvarez of the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Services at UBC (an outreach group that helped provide funding for the mural); and UBC mathematics professor, and president of the Natural Sciences Engineering Research Council, Alejandro Adem.

While Langlands was not present, McArthur told people at the ceremony that her brother and his wife are in the midst of a move back to Canada from the U.S. – where he has long been resident – and will live in Ontario, to be closer to his youngest daughter.

“What he said to me was ‘the U.S. is getting to be an ugly place and I don’t find myself thinking of mathematics too much anymore,’” McArthur said.

Casselman, who has known Langlands since they met at Princeton in 1966, said that while he and Langlands might resist oft-made comparisons of the mathematician to Albert Einstein, Langlands is “certainly in the top dozen of mathematicians in the 20th century.”

“There are probably 1,000 mathematicians that are working on his theories,” said Casselman, who, since 2015, has been helping Langlands publish much of his work on the internet.

– with files from Tracy Holmes

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rugby practices to return to Lower Mainland fields this fall

B.C. Rugby announced its return to play plan July 7

South Surrey man to bike across Canada

Last minute decision to take Rajiv Dhaliwal on three-month journey

White Rock RCMP reviews street checks for racial bias

Report indicates checks are being conducted bias-free

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Filming applications ‘coming in slowly’ to the City of Surrey

Netflix cancels ‘Sabrina’, but filming manager says new calls coming in to film in Cloverdale

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Fraser Valley loses the Keith Wilson Waver as Ron Hupper passes away

Hupper brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of people traveling Chilliwack’s Keith Wilson Road

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Once-in-a-lifetime comet photographed soaring over Abbotsford

Photographer Randy Small captures Comet NEOWISE in early-morning sky

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

Most Read