For reasons not worth disclosure and not fit for the current discussion, there is no Nobel Prize for mathematicians. But there are prizes no less prestigious than the Nobel Prize. There is the Abel Prize and there is the Fields Prize.
The Fields Medal is awarded as recognition to young mathematicians who are not over forty but have done work in mathematics that deserves applause and appreciation.
This year, the Fields Medal was given to four mathematicians in recognition of their work and findings. Among them is a female mathematician from Ukraine, who became only the second woman ever to have received the Medal.
June Huh, a Korean American mathematician, is a professor at Princeton University. He has also taught at Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Study. His work concerning algebraic geometry and combinatorics has been hard to be missed. In his words, “In practice what motivates us to pursue our goals is the pursuit of beauty.” To him, it is not the applications but the internal beauty that makes mathematicians like him strive and appreciate pure mathematics. He received the Medal for the connections he has found that exist between geometry and combinatorics. His story has nicely been woven into words by Kevin Hartnett in Quanta Magazine’s “A Path Less Taken to the Peak of the Math World”.
Hugo Duminil-Copin, another 2022 Fields Medalist, is a French mathematician who specialises in probability theory. Phys.org has come up with a nicely written article on him wherein it is mentioned how he goes about his work and his workplace. At merely 31, he was appointed professor at France’s Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies in 2016. He has had the privilege to study under Stanislav Smirnov, another Fields Medalist. He speaks and lectures in French, and is so down to earth that once he came to know about the recognition of his feat, he remarked that he “does not really fit in the clichés of a genius”. Hugo credits part of his success to the environment that makes it possible for him to go at his own pace without much obligations and workload. The Paris Institute is known to allow its researchers to free themselves of all obligations, thereby paving way for success such as in his case. Jordana Cepelewicz has written a wonderful write-up on his work and his way in Quanta Magazine’s “For His Sporting Approach to Math, a Fields Medal”.
James Maynard, a British number theorist, and this year’s Fields Medal recipient, has done his work in prime numbers and the gaps between them. A prime is a counting number that has exactly two divisors. The fascination with prime numbers has gripped a thousand mathematical souls. Be it Euclid or Fermat, Hardy or Ramanujan, primes have held the attention of mathematicians over generations. From their infinitude as reported by Euclid to the arbitrary large gaps between them, we have witnessed a plethora of intriguing yet revealing idiosyncrasies of primes. And Maynard has added more to the surprises. Maynard is reported to have established with proof that there are infinitely many primes that do not involve the digit 7. Quantum Magazine in its article titled “A Solver of the Hardest Easy Problems about Prime Numbers” has come up with a detailed account of his achievement as a pretty young mathematician who is merely 35 right now.
Maryna Viazovska, a Ukrainian mathematician, is the only female mathematician after the Iranian maestro, Maryam Mirzakhani, to be included in the list of Fields Medal recipients. She is a full professor at the Institute of Mathematics of the Ecole Polytechnique in Switzerland. Her work in sphere-packing in the eighth dimension, which made her a Fields Medal recipient, has given the inhabitants of Kyiv in Ukraine a reason to smile despite the ongoing war. She is also reported to have collaborated with others and solved the sphere-packing problem in dimension 24. Quantum Magazine has beautifully summed up her struggle and her mathematics in “In Times of Scarcity, War and Peace, a Ukrainian Finds the Magic in Math”.
There is much to learn from how people like these go about their work with sincerity and devotion. It seems as if the beauty of mathematics that was likened to the beauty of a sculpture by Bertrand Russell is what a mathematician is supposed to strive for. Mathematics is not just the study of numbers and figures; it is a pursuit of beauty and, obviously, truth.
The writer is Assistant Professor at Government Degree College Sopore. [email protected]