News from the Amir Aczel Foundation

The Amir D. Aczel Foundation wishes our friends and supporters a happy and healthy 2020. We’d like to take a moment to update you on what your support has allowed us to accomplish in 2019.

We are proud of sponsorship of the successful international symposium on the Role of Zero in the History of Mathematics held last March in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Many A59thanks to our host institution and partner, the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and support from the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the Cambodian Mathematical Society. Thanks to the speakers who came from the United States, Canada, Australia, France and India to present talks on zero in mathematical and historical context. We were delighted to see the nearly 600 Cambodian math students and faculty who participated in this event. Thank you especially to Dr. Kanal Hun who made this event such a success with his

leadership. Proceedings of the Conference, with selected highlights from works presented, are currently in production, thanks to ZerOrigIndia Foundation.

Debra and Miriam Aczel speaking at Symposium opening


Arguably, the oldest representation of zero was found in Cambodia. Amir Aczel’s book, Finding Zero, recounts the story of his search for and rediscovery of the inscription, thought lost during the cruel reign of the Khmer Rouge. The Amir D. Aczel Foundation funded installation of the stone containing this inscription in the National Museum of Cambodia. We were honored to participate in ceremony to formally inaugurate the display at the Museum and reception hosted by the Museum and the Cambodian Ministry of Culture.

National Museum of Cambodia–innauguration of Khmer Zero, K-127




K-127 in new display







In the spirit of Amir D. Aczel, we believe in the power of telling stories to encourage interest in math and science. The story of the oldest zero ever found in an important part of Cambodia’s role in the history of mathematics—and not well known either within or outside Cambodia. For that reason, much of our work this year has focused on calling attention to the Khmer Zero—arguably the oldest zero yet recorded. The Foundation supported translation and publication of Finding Zero in Khmer. Subsidizing publication cost has ensured that Cambodians will be able to have access to these beautiful books. Many, many thanks to Dr. Solang Uk for his elegant translation of the text—a remarkable two-year project.

Finding Zero in Khmer

In May, we presented the first annual Amir D. Foundation Prize to Dr. Andres Roemer, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Societal Change and the Free Flow of Knowledge, Founder and Director of La Ciudad de las Ideas, former Mexican Ambassador to UNESCO, and former Mexican Consul General to San Francisco. Thank you to the Harvard Club of San Francisco for hosting the event. This is the first of what we plan as an annual award to honor contributions for encouraging conversations around science, math, arts, and culture.

Debra Aczel, Miriam Aczel, Andres Roemer

We have a number of projects planned for the upcoming year.

  • We are continuing our partnership with the Mathematics Department of the Royal University of Phnom Penh and plan to contribute to their development of mathematics education for young Cambodians, including supporting workshops run by visiting faculty. We also plan to support continuing education for mathematics faculty.
  • We have recently agreed to a partnership with ZerOriginIndia—an organization based in The Hague, Netherlands, that supports ongoing research into the Eastern origins of the numeral zero.
  • We are working on development of a short video recounting the history of zero in the context of Cambodia.
  • We are exploring plan to develop a children’s book about zero in partnership with Cambodian community organizations. A recent article, Hero from the East: How Zero Came to the West, authored by Miriam Aczel, Debra Aczel and Marina Ville has been recently published in Frontiers for Young Minds. We plan to build on this interest and expand our work with young children.

2019 has been an exciting year for us and we look forward to continuing to work in Cambodia and elsewhere to support math and science research and education—in line with the interests of Amir D. Aczel, whose spirit very much lives in these projects. We are currently exploring new partnerships and expect that future projects focused on the environment and on supporting girls and women in STEM fields.

We would love to hear from you. Your ideas and enthusiasm continue to inspire us!!

Please visit our website.

The Amir D. Aczel Foundation is grateful for your financial support and we’d like to mention that as a charitable organization (501(c)(3), a number of our donors have been able to increase the power of their gifts by taking advantage of their employer’s charitable contributions matching programs. This makes a huge difference. Thank you, Stephanie Hoover, our brilliant Treasurer: Write her if you have financial questions.


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