Origins of the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics in Montevideo

Rafael Laguardia wrote about the creation of the Institute in which he referred to himself in the third person:

Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME)

The Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME) was created in 1942 on the basis of a project presented by the undersigned [Rafael Laguardia] to the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Associated Branches, Prof Ing Vicente I García. Throughout his prolific and extensive career Laguardia had a clear understanding of the importance of pure and applied scientific research, which led him to propose the founding of four of the eight Institutes of the current Faculty of Engineering and Mathematics. With regard to the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics, it was precisely in the act of inaugurating courses in the year 1942 that he alluded to the convenience of creating it, with its setting up gave public and official recognition to the difficult, tenacious and enthusiastic work that, outside the regular courses, Rafael Laguardia had been doing selflessly in the company of a small but select group of collaborators.

In the aforementioned project Rafael Laguardia pointed out that there were already objective conditions that ensured the viability of the Institute: a good mathematical library (work, above all, of the erudite professor Eduardo García de Zúñiga, who had endowed it with important collections of books and journals); a tradition of serious mathematical studies; the existence of a small nucleus of people who had been specializing for some time and who had managed to inspire a group of young students.

The influence of the studies carried out outside the country by Rafael Laguardia, the courses by J Rey Pastor and the short visits by other foreign professors were important factors. Thus, the creation of the Institute was the result of a long process of maturation. And, even if we look at the historical circumstances that have conditioned the development of our University, it is not strange that it was within a professional Faculty where a body dedicated to freely cultivate the most abstract of sciences came to be sited.

It was resolved that the creation of the Institute required the provision of the position of Director, and a contest was conducted which resulted in the appointment of Rafael Laguardia. The material conditions in which the first steps had to take place could not be more impoverished: the place was reduced to an old classroom divided by wooden partitions; the furniture had been given by other departments of the Faculty; the annual item for expenses was reduced to fifty pesos; the Director Rafael Laguardia, and his main collaborator, J L Massera, worked without payment for several years and then received a small increase in their teaching salaries. If these circumstances did not discourage or distort the development, this was due to the fact that it was correctly set up, with a clear foresight of the difficulties to be found and a firm intention to face and overcome them. In the creation of the project, after briefly indicating the objectives of the Institute (research, specialized teaching and advice), the different means to achieve them were listed with precision, highlighting the value of exclusive dedication and the importance of starting the training of researchers in mathematics from an early age; additionally, the convenience of encouraging the study of statistics and creating a computing laboratory was noted. It is therefore now well established, which has been achieved over time through the gradual acquisition of material facilities (almost non-existent until the 1949 budget) and the progressive formation of a small group of team-spirited people (particularly difficult in an agrarian country which is little populated, because there is a lack of technological motivation, because a positive aptitude towards mathematics is not frequently found and because interest in this science grows exponentially through contacts).

Rafael Laguardia

JOC/EFR September 2018

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