On May 10, 1999, the Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI) officially opened with an inaugural ceremony entitled "A Celebration of the Universality of Mathematical Thought" in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This event marked the founding of the CMI in September 1998 by Boston businessman Landon T. Clay with his wife Lavinia D. Clay. It also was the first Annual Meeting of the Institute.
The ceremony drew a standing-room-only crowd of dignitaries, mathematicians, students, and other guests. On this historic occasion, CMI declared its mission to further the beauty, power, and universality of mathematical thought, and hosted an impressive group of speakers.
CMI President Arthur Jaffe welcomed the audience by introducing the heads of several mathematics organizations and institutes, and Rita Colwell, the newly appointed director of the National Science Foundation. Jaffe then defined the CMI statutes, "to increase and to disseminate mathematical knowledge." Jaffe also recognized the vision of CMI Founder Landon Clay, whose commitment to the sciences spawned the birth of the Institute. At the end of his talk, Jaffe concluded that "CMI stands for Landon's dream for the future."
Mr. Clay was the second speaker to address the gathering. He told his story of the CMI's formation, and explained aspects of the foundation's governance. Mr. Clay also spoke of the CMI's mandate to identify and celebrate the achievements of the world's most gifted mathematicians.
Charles Vest, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, endorsed the CMI's mission by expressing outspoken advocacy for scientific education and research and mentioning his own "deep-seated commitment to learning and exploration for its own sake."
Alain Connes spoke of the infinite profundity of mathematics by recalling an epiphany he had in his early career, and applauded CMI's effort to make mathematics more visible. In thanks to Landon Clay, Connes called CMI a "golden opportunity for broadening the horizons" of talented mathematics students.
Michael Atiyah gave an inspirational talk on the importance of mathematics, defining mathematics as "one of the pillars of civilization," and as "a creative enterprise," akin to all the arts. He also stressed the universality of mathematics, and its central place in the international exchange of ideas.
Edward Witten, who has worked in many fields of physics, most notably string theory, spoke about the inherent beauty and universality of mathematics, which he defined as "the language of science."
Following these introductions, artist and mathematician Helaman Ferguson unveiled the CMI icon, a large black granite sculpture in the shape of a topological knot complement. During the unveiling, Ferguson lectured on the significance of the form, which embodies topological, geometric, and crystalline structures. He also correlated the aesthetic qualities of sculpted stone with the timeless nature of mathematical ideas.
One important highlight of the meeting was the surprise presentation of the first CMI Research Award — by Arthur Jaffe, Landon Clay, and Lavinia Clay to Princeton University professor Andrew Wiles, for his research on number theory. Wiles had provided the proof to Fermat's Last Theorem, first posed in 1637. In honor of his outstanding contributions to mathematics, Wiles received a copy of the elegant bronze sculpture modeled after the Institute's logo entitled "Figureight Knot Complement vii/CMI." As Wiles accepted the award, Landon Clay remarked on the recipient's marvelous achievement and the story of his breakthrough.
This was followed by a panel discussion on "Mathematics and Society" featuring David Gergen (former advisor to four US Presidents) as moderator, and speakers Dudley Herschbach and William Odom. To begin, David Gergen offered a non-specialist's view on the importance of mathematics and voiced the nation's need for greater support of mathematics. He then introduced Dudley Herschbach with a glowing account of the Nobel Prize Winner's accomplishments.
Dudley Herschbach, a noted chemist, offered a perspective on the universality of mathematics and the deepening connection of mathematics to every field of creative inquiry by sharing some delightful anecdotes about his experience as a researcher, many revolving about the number 17.
William Odom, former Director of the National Security Agency, and head of a recent NSF panel that reviewed US mathematics, spoke about the intellectual merits of mathematics and its linkage with engineering and other crucial areas of science.
Before opening up the discussion to the audience, David Gergen took the podium to explain his view of the current outlook on mathematics research in the United States. He also underlined positive trends that have encouraged mathematics, notably America's progress in the high-tech sector. During the panel discussion, General Odom offered a policy maker's views on federal funding and explained the benefits of setting higher standards, and Dr. Herschbach shared his insights about the status of science education.
During the second part of the afternoon, keynote speaker Andrew Wiles gave a talk on the future of number theory. Wiles was introduced by Barry Mazur, a close colleague and friend. On this occasion, Wiles gave a precise account of his findings that led to the first proof for Fermat's Last Theorem. Talks at Dinner included Rita Colwell, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Konrad Osterwalder, Ludwig Faddeev, William Browder, and Finn Caspersen.