News from the world of maths: Conjecture to theorem to fame to fortune

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Conjecture to theorem to fame to fortune

The buzz is building in the mathematical community. It looks more and more likely that Grigori Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture is correct — and that he has solved a problem that has eluded the best mathematical minds for more than a century. When Perelman first posted his proof on the web in 2002 many thought this would be just another failed attempt, but since then it has survived intense mathematical scrutiny and appears to close to being accepted as correct.

Now the rumour mill has gone into overdrive. Word on the mathematical street is that he will receive the Fields Medal (thought of as the maths equivalent to the Nobel prize) next week at the International Congress of Mathematics in Madrid. And not only mathematical glory awaits him. The Poincaré Conjecture is one of the seven Millennium Problems named by the Clay Institute, and if Perelman has proved it he is eligible for the $1 million prize. So if the rumours are right, Perelman's fame and fortune are just around the corner.

That is all very exciting, but there is something that may get Perelman even more column inches in the press (he has already made the front pages): Perelman has a history of not accepting prizes. It seems that not only may he refuse the $1 million Clay prize, he may refuse the Fields medal too. This would make him the first to refuse the Field's Medal, and the first not only to win the Clay prize, but also the first to turn it down.

Regardless of whether Perelman accepts the accolades that may come his way, the biggest news for most mathematicians is whether his work is finally accepted as correct — and whether we can start calling the Poincaré Conjecture, the Poincaré Theorem, after all this time.

The world of mathematics waits with baited breath....

posted by Plus @ 1:31 PM