Mathematician and Schrödinger Fellow Fabian Mußnig exploring Florence. © private

After my doctoral degree in technical mathematics and a stint at a secondary school teaching maths and physics, I started work as an assistant at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology). I quickly realised that a long-term career in academia necessarily requires experience abroad. For this purpose, I first went to Tel Aviv University for a year and then set my sights on a Schrödinger fellowship.

In my research field, a central role is played by so-called intrinsic volumes, which assign a number to a convex body. Special cases are the volume and the surface area. Together with co-authors, I was recently able to establish new functional versions of these parameters. Since a number of fundamental inequalities are known for classical intrinsic volumes, I wanted to find out if this was also the case for the new functional versions. I knew where to find the ideal contacts for this research project, because I had already become acquainted with the University of Florence and some of the local professors there during several shorter research visits.

The blackboard, the coffee bar and new results

I was thus able to start my research stay in Florence in October 2020, right in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Compared to my previous visit, the university seemed pretty deserted at first – distance learning and working from home were omnipresent. I was all the more surprised to find that there was no free desk left in the offices for visiting scholars. The reason was the introduction of new capacity rules. I was lucky, though, and a desk became available in the office of a professor friend with whom I had worked in the past. Since his own internet connection at home was not powerful enough for the demands of working life in the pandemic, he was one of the few people who came to the office almost every day – an office which sported a blackboard, by the way. These were ideal conditions for many exciting and at times spontaneous mathematical discussions, which soon produced first results. I also quickly got used to the daily cappuccini in the bar nearby, where probably most of the department who came to the office stopped off in the course of the morning.

The pandemic also prevented many scientific conferences from taking place, but the summer of 2021 provided me nevertheless with the first opportunity in a long time to meet many colleagues in person in the beautiful town of Cetraro and in Bad Herrenalb. This enabled me to continue – face to face and at the blackboard – collaborative efforts that had begun in a virtual sphere.

An experience to be remembered

I loved my time in Florence, not least from a gastronomic point of view. I also enjoyed the mild winter and relaxing runs in the Parco delle Cascine. My wife, a doctoral student at the University of Vienna, remained in Austria during this time, which meant regular visits to one another were out of the question, despite the geographical proximity, due to the pandemic. This made me appreciate every possible meeting all the more. We used such opportunities to visit museums, cathedrals and markets together and sample an ice cream or two during our excursions. A coastal hike in Cinque Terre was another highlight. In summary, I am very grateful for the many academic and personal experiences I gathered during my 12 months in Florence. This city will always have a special place in my heart.