Bernard Dacorogna

Prize in the Math section 2017

Bernard Dacorogna, who teaches the mathematical analysis course to second-year math students, wants to share the beauty of this demanding subject with his class. “Mathematical analysis is the most far-reaching branch of mathematics,” says Professor Dacorogna. “A colleague of mine calls it the science of the infinite. And it’s the most important branch of mathematics for an engineer, because all mechanics and physics equations are differential equations that involve mathematical analysis.”

Professor Dacorogna’s passion really does rub off on his students. He gets very positive feedback in class evaluations and has been awarded the Mathematics section prize this year. A blackboard enthusiast, he opts for a traditional teaching style. “I’m all for sticking to the basics. You don’t need anything fancy – that’s the beauty of reasoning.” His main teaching tool is his enthusiasm: he loves passing on knowledge, and he never tires of his topic, even after teaching the same course for eight years. “Mathematics is extremely difficult, but it’s wonderful – a real workout for the brain. I’m always impressed by a truly beautiful theorem.”

The students like Professor Dacorogna’s method, particularly the revision work after every exercise. “Once the reasoning is done, I like to go back over all the different points again orally. The students have stopped taking notes, so they can take a step back and make sure they really understand things,” he says. For Dacorogna, it’s important to remain humble when answering questions. “If you’re not sure of the answer, you have to be able to say: ‘I don’t know, let me think about it.’ That’s what I do, and my teaching assistants too. I think it’s really important to be honest with the students.”

The 2017-2018 academic year will be the last for Professor Dacorogna, who is retiring after 35 years of teaching. But he won’t be leaving mathematics behind altogether. “It’s my life – I love it! I hope to be able to continue working on several projects,” he says. He’ll look back on his years at EPFL as ‘a real privilege’ and hopes that his younger colleagues will be just as lucky. “It’s so important to enjoy what you do. When my children worried about finding a job, I always told them to do what they love and follow their path.”