British mathematics wizards win Breakthrough Prize and Â£1.8m each. First they didn’t believe that they have won the award. One of them thought he was being consulted as to whom to give the award.
Two British researchers, Richard Taylor, 52, and Simon Donaldson, 56, are among the five winners of the new Breakthrough prize in mathematics organized by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and Yuri Milner, an internet capitalist.
The winners were announced on Monday and will be awarded $3m (Â£1.8m) and a trophy as winners at a ceremony in California in November. The other three winners are Maxim Kontsevich, 49, from France, Jacob Lurie, 36, and Terry Tao, 38, both of them from the US. All the five winners will form a committee to choose winners for next year.
Yuri Milner, who left his world of physics to pursue internet investment that earned him $1bn, has been organizing various awards to promote scientists and mathematicians as super star in the eyes of public.
“We think scientists should be much better appreciated. They should be modern celebrities, alongside athletes and entertainers,” Milner quoted.”We want young people to get more excited. Maybe they will think of choosing a scientific path as opposed to other endeavours if we collectively celebrate them more.”
Zuckerberg, the 30-year-old CEO of Facebook, said, “Mathematics is essential for driving human progress and innovation in this century. This year’s Breakthrough prize winners have made huge contributions to the field and we’re excited to celebrate their efforts.”
Richard Taylor, 52, who works for Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, said that he was bewildered to know that he was a winner. “Having spent 10 minutes or so telling me about the prize, Milner said they would like to offer it to me. I was flabbergasted. I assumed he wanted to ask which of the mathematicians from the older generation were most deserving,” Taylor said.
Taylor was chosen as a winner for his theory of automorphic forms which connects algebraic questions to symmetries of curved spaces like those in Escher’s woodcuts, for instance Circle Limit III.
“It’s very abstract and that’s a great pity. To appreciate its beauty, you need a long apprenticeship, so it’s very hard to share widely,” he said.”Mathematicians think on hard problems for years. When you’ve put in all that effort, and you suddenly see how it all fits together, that is a wonderful feeling. There is nothing to equal it.”
Taylor has been a student of the Oxford mathematician Andrew Wiles and helped him to link a difficult gap in Wiles’s well-known proof of Fermat’s last theorem.