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Winning at maths

By David, 23 August 2018 News

A gold disc or medal with a bearded man's portrait.

The Fields Medal contains about $5700 worth of gold.

Time to celebrate! For only the second time ever, an Australian has won the most famous prize in mathematics – the Fields Medal. Let’s take a moment to celebrate the achievements of the winner, Akshay Venkatesh.

Akshay is a number theorist, which means that he’s particularly interested in questions about whole numbers. Whole numbers seem pretty simple – they’re the first numbers that you learn and they’re easy to add and multiply. But questions about whole numbers can be notoriously tricky.

Akshay is known for using completely different areas of maths to solve problems. When looking at a question about factorisation – using division to break a number into smaller whole numbers – Akshay turned to a part of geometry known as topology. Topology looks at what makes shapes the same or different when you bend and stretch them.

Akshay made a connection between the factorisations he was doing and certain shapes. In the process, he not only found the factorisation answers he was seeking, but also found some new results in topology!

The Fields Medal is a great opportunity to celebrate Akshay’s achievements, but it’s also a good time to look to the future. Like all Fields Medallists, Akshay is under the age of 40, so with any luck, his best work is still to come!

Fields medal shock!

This year, four people were awarded the Fields Medal, but Caucher Birkar didn’t keep his medal for long. Minutes after receiving his medal, it was stolen from his briefcase. Luckily, the organisers had a spare medal, which they presented to Caucher.

People involved took the opportunity to have a good laugh about it. When presenting the replacement medal, International Mathematical Union President Shigefumi Mori noted, “This will be a very rare occasion, for a person to receive the medal for a second time.”

Meanwhile, Caucher was also cracking jokes. When asked about the theft he replied, “Now I’m much more famous than I would be!”

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