MATH GENIUS DECLINES TOP PRIZE
MATH GENIUS DECLINES TOP PRIZE

20060822 at 12:47:00 pm #16169
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 centuryold
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 selfpromotion.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 ParisSud 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.Centuryold 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 twodimensional 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
twodimensional space with this property. But they were uncertain about
objects with more dimensions.The Poincare Conjecture says that a
threedimensional sphere is the only enclosed threedimensional space
with no holes. But proof of the conjecture has so far eluded
mathematicians.