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Thibaud is now officially Dr. Taillefumier.

On June 14 Thibaud Taillefumier attended Convocation. Here is a transcript of my remarks at the occasion.

Thibaud Taillefumier attacked one of the most difficult problems in Mathematical Physics. As a quantity moves up and down, it eventually will cross any given level infinitely many times. Finding the very first time that it attains that level, which is called the first passage time problem, is a fiendishly difficult task that has been studied for 70 years by some of the most brilliant minds. This is because it models things as diverse as the onset of chemical reactions and the triggering of orders in the stock market. In neuroscience, one can see it in the fluctuating voltage of the membrane of a neuron, the triggering of an action potential — the fundamental mechanism by which neurons communicate with one another.

During his thesis, Thibaud created extremely, extraordinarily elegant tools to study these problems that in my opinion have single-handedly advanced this field by about a decade. In this work he was able to show that there is a transition in the mode in which neurons can fire action potentials to one another depending on how their input is structured.

However, as much as I would like to go on gushing about Thibaud’s enormous intellect and ability, I have to tell you that his most defining quality is his totally intransigent approach to the truth. Thibaud simply faced no compromises in that sense.

He once thought he had found a potential flaw in a paper we had just had accepted at a major journal. Without even asking me, he called the journal and pulled the paper out of production. And for two months, he went over the paper, agonizing over every single detail of the proof, until I was finally able to convince him that there was no flaw.

At a time when many of our young scientists are constantly being tempted to choose flash over substance and sound-bites over content, I find it totally refreshing and it gives me great hope that some of our young people are still pursuing the truth in this manner.  

Mr. President, Mr. Carson and honored guests, it is my pleasure to present to you a true scientist, Thibaud Taillefumier.

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