A WORLD-LEADING mathematics professor newly arrived at City University says Asia is a more exciting place to do research than the United States, where politicking and squeezed funds are cutting morale. Soft-spoken Professor Stephen Smale, 65, formerly of the prestigious University of California at Berkeley and winner of the maths equivalent of the Nobel Prize, will give a public talk called on 'chaos' - the mathematical form - at City University tomorrow. Professor Smale, a pioneer of chaos theory in the 1960s and 70s, was a professor at Berkeley for 30 years and a winner of the Fields medal in 1966. He has taken up a contract for a year that is likely to be extended to three years. 'Mathematics research in the US is diminishing, while here it's expanding,' he said. 'As [US] funds get cut back, more and more popular sectors are fighting for funds. In some ways it's much more exciting here, where there's lots of support. You see many Asians coming back.' And he thought Hong Kong could lead China into more mathematics work, which had been 'under-developed' since the Cultural Revolution. In Hong Kong he would be working on the mathematical laws of computation - trying to find out the limit at which problems become so difficult that computers cannot solve them, let alone people. Knowing the limits would help engineers know what sort of problems they could solve, he said. In a similar way, aeronautical engineers knew the laws of physics when they built aircraft, even though they would not build the machines to the limit of their ability. Chaos theory covers the uncertain movement of particles. For instance, it deals with situations such as the first shot of a game of billiards, where a 0.001-millimetre difference in the path of the cue ball could alter the other balls' paths by metres. It deals with systems where prediction is practically impossible. 'There was some controversy about the word not being serious enough,' he said. 'Some people wanted to carry on calling it dynamics, the previous word. 'Some mathematicians think it's not a serious part of mathematics, although the last Fields medal was given for dynamics so it's gaining favour.'