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 user 2006-08-22 at 12:46:00 pm Views: 38
  • #16218

    Maths genius declines top prize
    Grigory Perelman, the Russian who seems to have solved one of the hardest problems in mathematics, has declined one of the top prizes in maths.The Fields Medals are among the most important prizes for mathematics, and Perelman was to have picked up the award at a ceremony in Madrid.However, organisers told the BBC that Perelman had turned down the prize.In 2002, Perelman claimed to have solved a century-old problem called the Poincare Conjecture.So far, experts combing through his proof in order to verify it have found no significant flaws.”The official statement regarding Grigory Perelman is that he has declined to accept the medal,” said a spokesperson for the International Congress of Mathematicians, which organised the meeting at which the prizes were announced.

    Prestigious honour
    The Fields Medals come with prize money of 15,000 Canadian dollars (£7,000) for each recipient. They are awarded every four years.There had been considerable speculation that Grigory “Grisha” Perelman would decline the award. The Russian has been described as an “unconventional” and “reclusive” genius who spurns self-promotion.Observers also suspect he will refuse a $1m (£529,000) prize offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Massachusetts, US, if his proof of the Poincare Conjecture stands up to scrutiny.The Fields Medals are regarded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics. They are awarded to mathematicians under the age of 40 for an outstanding body of work and are decided by an anonymous committee. The age limit of 40 is designed to encourage future endeavour.The winners are Andrei Okounkov of the University of California, Berkeley, Terence Tao from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Wendelin Werner of the University of Paris-Sud in Orsay, France.

    Exemplary behaviour
    “It’s quite an honour – very different to anything that’s happened to me before. This prize is the highest in mathematics,” Terence Tao told the BBC News website.”Most prizes are specific to a single field, but this recognises achievement across the whole of mathematics.”Tao received the award for a diverse body of work that, amongst other things, has shed light on the properties of prime numbers. Despite being the youngest of the winners at 31, he has a variety of mathematical proofs to his name and has published over 80 papers.Fellow winner Wendelin Werner, whose work straddles the intersection between maths and physics, commented: “We are all around 40 years old – so still relatively young. It’s a big honour but also quite a lot of pressure for the future.”Andrei Okounkov, who works on probability theory, commented: “I suppose we will have to exhibit exemplary behaviour from now on, because a lot of people will be watching.”A spokesperson for the Clay Mathematics Institute said it would put off making a decision on any award for two years. The $1m prize could be awarded jointly to Perelman and US mathematician Richard Hamilton, who devised the “Ricci flow” equation that forms the basis for the Russian’s solution.Grigory Perelman was born in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1966 in what was then the Soviet Union. Aged 16, he won the top prize at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Budapest in 1982.Having received his doctorate from St Petersburg State University, he taught at various US universities during the 1990s before returning home to take up a post at the Steklov Mathematics Institute.

    Century-old problem
    He resigned from the institute suddenly on January 1, and has reportedly been unemployed since.”He was very polite but he didn’t talk very much,” said Natalya Stepanovna, a former colleague at the Steklov Mathematics Institute in St Petersburg. On his decision to resign his post, she speculated: “Maybe he wanted to be free to do his research.”Perelman gained international recognition in 2002 and 2003 when he published two papers online that purported to solve the Poincare Conjecture.The riddle had perplexed mathematicians since it was first posited by Frenchman Henri Poincare in 1904.It is a central question in topology, the study of the geometrical properties of objects that do not change when they are stretched, distorted or shrunk.The hollow shell of the surface of the Earth is what topologists call a two-dimensional sphere. If one were to encircle it with a lasso of string, it could be pulled tight to a point.On the surface of a doughnut however, a lasso passing through the hole in the centre cannot be shrunk to a point without cutting through the surface.Since the 19th Century, mathematicians have known that the sphere is the only enclosed two-dimensional space with this property. But they were uncertain about objects with more dimensions.The Poincare Conjecture says that a three-dimensional sphere is the only enclosed three-dimensional space with no holes. But proof of the conjecture has so far eluded mathematicians.