To succeed as a theoretical mathematician you must have talent - and sometimes a bit of luck as well. Prof. Yosef Yomdin has always had a flair for mathematics. But one moment of luck played a central role in the success of his career.
Yomdin was born in 1949 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to Russian-Jewish parents. He became interested in mathematics at the age of 10 and consequently chose it as his major in high school. In 1965, he took first place in the Siberia Mathematics Olympics, and this allowed him to participate in a one-year program in mathematics and physics at a Siberian school. Yomdin decided to stay on in Siberia and attended Novosibirsk University, where he received his master's degree in 1971. But when he applied for the Ph.D. program there, the authorities had just decided to purge the ranks of Jewish students.
"Seventy Jewish students went before the academic board that year - only two made it in," Yomdin recalls. Academician Yanenko, a well-known mathematician (and well-known anti-Semite, Yomdin adds), rejected one Jewish student after another. "But just as my turn came up, Yanenko had to step out for five minutes to answer a call of nature. The other members of the board, who were familiar with my work, quickly passed me through the exam board before Yanenko could return."
Yomdin completed his doctoral studies in 1974. He had already decided to immigrate to Israel, but it would take him several years before he could carry this out. In 1978, four years after they began an emigration process that included one year as refuseniks, Yomdin and his family were allowed to move to Israel. The Israeli authorities placed the family in an absorption center that happened to be just outside of Rehovot, the Weizmann Institute's hometown. "I had heard about the Institute, and the morning after we arrived I visited the campus and immediately liked it."
After applying to several academic centers, Yomdin found a position at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where he worked for 10 years before coming to the Institute. At the Institute he pursues two basic mathematical directions: algebraic differential equations, which are abstract in nature, and high-order numerical algorithms, which are more applied concepts. "I find both interesting and make every effort not to sacrifice the one for the other," he says. Yomdin's work in the field of high-order algorithms focuses on optimal planning of robotic movement, including the development of robots' capability to react to unexpected situations. Solving these problems and numerical problems of other applications would enable the enrichment of Internet images and the development of "friendly" robots.