Busy times, 6: Leuven

I have just spent two days in Leuven.

This beautiful old city is primarily now a university town. The first university was founded there in 1425, about a decade after the University of St Andrews. However, unlike St Andrews, which had a continuous (though rather precarious) existence since its foundation, the university in Leuven was dissolved by Napoleon and re-established sometime later, and it is an arguable legal point whether the present university is a continuation of the original one.

In any case, it is in some ways similar to Cambridge, with many colleges (former religious establishments, now part of the university), mostly built of brick (I suppose because of the absence of good building stone, as with Cambridge), and many many bicycles.

Pope's College Leuven

The glory of the town is the Stadthuis, which we were not able to see the interior of, since there was only one tour a day, at 3pm, and I was always busy at that time. Nearby is the Fons Sapientia, showing a student refreshing his brain by reading a book. What was he reading? On Thursday, the water was turned off, and we were able to find out …

Fons Sapientia

I was there for the prizegiving of the Vlaamse Wiskunde Olympiade, the Flemish Mathematical Olympiad. This was an awe-inspiring occasion. The lecture hall had a capacity of 800 and was nearly full, and yet I am told that this represents only the top couple of percent of the students in Flanders who participate in the competitions. They have a senior and junior competition for high school students, and lower grades named after various Australian marsupials for primary school students.

As well as helping hand out the prizes, I also gave a lecture, starting with the party theorem, and going a little bit into Ramsey theory for sets and for permutations.

In addition to this, I gave a colloquium talk on the random graph in the mathematics department. The turnout was impressive; the colloquium room was not small, but there were more people than seats there. As always in Belgium, I ate and drank very well. I also saw many old friends, especially from Ghent, Budapest and Sofia. A little bit of sightseeing gave me the chance to see the Grote Begijnhof (Great Beguinage), a world heritage site where contemplative women were able to live outside the formal structures of church orders, and the Kruidtuin botanic garden.

Kruidtuin

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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