Léon Motchane, Founder of IHES and Former Director
Portrait Léon Motchane

Léon Motchane, mathematician

Founder of IHES
IHES Director from 1958 to 1971

Léon Motchane was born in Russia in 1900. He studied in Lausanne, Switzerland, before becoming a physician assistant in a laboratory. He arrived in France in 1924 and left the academic world for the business world. Fascinated by mathematics and physics, Léon Motchane continued his education in mathematics at the age of 54 and obtained his thesis under the supervision of Gustave Choquet.

Léon Motchane was convinced, firstly that fundamental research should be supported by large industrial companies, secondly that researchers should have thorough freedom of choice. He, therefore, decided to set up an institute in France, similar to the Institute to Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, to bring together high-level mathematicians et physicists

With Robert Oppenheimer’s support, then Director of the IAS, as well as that of large private companies, Léon Motchane created the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques in 1958, which moved to Bois-Marie in 1962.

The Institute’s reputation gradually became international thanks to the various scientific personalities who came to visit, but also thanks to the Publications mathématiques de l’IHES or the famous « Séminaire de géométrie algébrique » by Grothendieck, which were at the core of the reorganization of algebraic geometry in the 60s.

Upon Léon Motchane’s retirement in 1971, Nicolaas H. Kuiper took over as Director.

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