Saturday 19 March 2016

Wiles lands another goldfish

Even if you'e crap at maths you know there are many, many solutions to this equation: a2 + b2 = c2 It's the Pythagoras, silly! 3,4,5 triangles for anyone who has tried to square off a building etc. The great 17thC French mathematician Pierre de Fermat wondered about when the exponent/index n is greater than 2: an + bn = cn and in 1637ish famously proved to his own satisfaction that there were no such cases. He neglected, however, to tell anyone else his answer to the problem! That conjecture or theorem sat there for the next 400 years in the consciousness of mathematics like grit in an oyster - making the quants develop rich and beautiful ideas while marshalling their evidence towards a solution to the puzzle. About a year ago, I tribbed true Brit Andrew Wiles for finally slotting the last piece into the ragged and extensive jigsaw that had grown out of Fermat's Last Theorem with a proof that satisfied not only himself but also the mathematical community at large.

It didn't make the RTE news because Wiles doesn't come from Athlone, but I'll share with you that Professor Sir Andrew Wiles KBE FRS has landed the 2016 Abel Prize.  The Abel was set up at the turn of this century as an antidote to the fact that Alfred Nobel didn't institute a prize in mathematics. It's worth 6 million kroner [€635,000/$715,000] cash. It is just the latest in the tribs that have rained down on Wiles's head since he used it to crack The conundrum of recent ages.  Before the Abel there were: Whitehead Prize (1988); FRS (1989); Schock Prize (1995); Fermat Prize (1995); Wolf Prize (1995); NAS Award (1996); Royal Medal (1996); Ostrowski Prize (1996); Cole Prize (1997); Wolfskehl Prize (1997); King Faisal Prize {1998); Clay Research Award (1999); KBE (1999); Pythagoras Award (2004); Shaw Prize (2005).  He was too old for the Fields Medal so they gave him, uniquely, a silver plaque instead.  Of course he's been given a shower of honorary degrees too: Warwick, Columbia, Nottingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia and Yale. No better man!  But there are plenty of equally good mathematicians who get nothing but their salary.

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