Solving problems with intuition
There are two kinds of researchers in mathematics, Zerbes says: "One kind builds theories and sees the big picture." The other focuses on a particular problem that needs to be solved. "I’m a problem solver," says the German-born 43-year-old, who last autumn was appointed Professor of Mathematics at ETH Zurich. The problems she deals with relate to one of the most famous and mysterious conjectures in mathematics. It was proposed by two British mathematicians, Bryan Birch and Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, in 1965, after they had spent many nights conducting numerical experiments on what at the time was the sole computer at the University of Cambridge. "These days,” Zerbes says, "anyone could do those calculations on a laptop."