The most valuable mathematical restaurant cards in the world!

Now that Akshay Venkatesh has (deservedly) received the Fields Medal, I find myself the owner of some priceless items of mathematical history: the four restaurant cards on which, some time in (probably) 2005, Akshay sketched the argument (based on Ratner theory) that proves that the Fourier coefficients of a cusp form at n and at (say) 2n, for a non-arithmetic group, do not correlate. In other words, if we normalize the coefficients (say a(n)) so that the mean-square is 1, then we have
\lim_{X\to +\infty} \frac{1}{X}\sum_{n\leq X} a(n)\overline{a(2n)}=0.

Akshay's cards
Akshay’s cards

(Incidentally, the great persifleur of the world was also present that week in Bristol, if I remember correctly).

The story of these cards actually starts the year before in Montréal, where I participated in May in a workshop on Spectral Theory and Automorphic Forms, organized by D. Jakobson and Y. Petridis (which, incidentally, remains one of the very best, if not the best, conference that I ever attended, as the programme can suggest). There, Akshay talked about his beautiful proof (with Lindenstrauss) of the existence of cusp forms, and I remember that a few other speakers mentioned some of his ideas (one was A. Booker).

In any case, during my own lecture, I mentioned the question. The motivation is an undeservedly little known gem of analytic number theory: Duke and Iwaniec proved in 1990 that a similar non-correlation holds for Fourier coefficients of half-integral weight modular forms, a fact that is of course related to the non-existence of Hecke operators in that context. Since it is known that this non-existence is also a property of non-arithmetic groups (in fact, a characteristic one, by the arithmeticity theorem of Margulis), one should expect the non-correlation to hold also for that case. This is what Akshay told me during a later coffee break. But only during our next meeting in Bristol did he explain to me how it worked.

Note that this doesn’t quite give as much as Duke-Iwaniec: because the ergodic method only gives the existence of the limit, and no decay rate, we cannot currently (for instance) deduce a power-saving estimate for the sum of a(p) over primes (which is what Duke and Iwaniec deduced from their own, quantitative, bounds; the point is that a similar estimate, for a Hecke form, would imply a zero-free strip for its L-function).

For a detailed write-up of Akshay’s argument, see this short note; if you want to go to the historic restaurant where the cards were written, here is the reverse of one of them:

Restaurant card
Restaurant card

If you want to make an offer for these invaluable objects, please refer to my lawyer.

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

3 thoughts on “The most valuable mathematical restaurant cards in the world!”

  1. Yes indeed! Also in attendance as guests of AIM, as I remember, included Soundararajan, Ben Green, Elon Lindenstrauss, Erez Lapid, Andy Booker, and Mark Watkins (maybe William Stein as well?). As far as timing goes, I think it must have been very close to passover, since someone (I forget who) was eating those kosher for passover coconut macaroons. Of course, that may well have simply been a reaction to the local cuisine. I even have some very limited photographic evidence remaining of that week, which I shall attempt to post here:

    1. Right, with hosts J. Keating and B. Conrey, and some other Bristol people like N. Snaith were also there. I don’t think I have any pictures, unfortunately…

      After some searching, I found that it was April 25 to 29, 2005, and Mike Rubinstein as well as William Stein were there.
      But still no pictures…

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