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A tribute to Professor Mila Nikolova (1962-2018)

Publication Date: 
Thursday 28th June 2018 - 14:15

It is with great sadness that we report the passing away last week of Professor Mila Nikolova, Research Director at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and Microsoft Fellow, Simons Fellow, and long term participant (August to December 2017) on the recent INI programme on Variational Methods and Effective Algorithms for Imaging and Vision (VMV). Mila is known for her substantial contributions in optimisation, in particular the analysis of solutions to optimisation problems and application of optimisation techniques in image processing and inverse problems.

Programme organizer Carola-Bibiane Schönlieb writes:

I really got to know Mila Nikolova only four years ago when we were at a workshop in China together. I gave a talk there about some very fresh research on an ODE-inspired approach for non-smooth optimisation - at the time I had some results but did not understand the approach very deeply. I gave my presentation and Mila came to me afterwards to discuss with me what I proposed. I told her that we are still a long way away from publication and she said: “Yes, this is true. But it is still very interesting!”. I will always remember this - I felt understood and listened to. Those who know Mila will surely sympathise.

Mila was one of the most passionate mathematicians I know. Indeed, she sourced her energy for life from doing mathematics. Besides being such a wonderful scientist Mila also was a very generous and attentive person. Her genuine interest in her interlocutor as a person, a human being, and her desire to build personal relationships through discussing mathematics was wonderful. In discussions she never closed a topic by doctrinating her opinion onto the other person but by leaving things unanswered and challenging the other one to express their opinion.

Mila participated in the VMV programme for the whole of its duration. But her influence started much earlier: throughout the process of preparing the programme proposal she was one of the most active and constructive critics in our scientific advisory board. During the programme she helped shape activities, attracted a range of young researchers to the programme (she was passionate about supporting young mathematicians!) and was always available for discussions and developing crazy ideas. During the programme Mila, Jingwei Liang and I started planning a three-Part minisymposium to be held at the recent SIAM imaging conference on acceleration in optimisation. With her endless energy Mila not only proposed the topic, she also made suggestions for excellent speakers and was so insistent on the inclusion of certain topics she even offered to present the paper of a colleague who could not attend. In the end, sadly she herself could not attend the conference but her spirit was with us all the time.

I feel very sad about the great loss of Mila leaving us much too early - both in terms of an excellent and inspiring mathematician and in terms of a friend. Her work was as much about mathematics as it was about people.

A selection of Professor Nikolova’s journal articles and conference papers can be found via the CNRS website here: http://mnikolova.perso.math.cnrs.fr/

Two of Professor Nikolova’s VMV talks are available to stream on demand from newton.ac.uk via the following links:

University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons