Simon Singh wins Leelavati Prize for Public Outreach in Maths

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Listen to our Interview with Singh recorded yesterday at the ICM 2010.

Simon Singh, the well-known physicist-turned science and maths communicator, has been awarded the Leelavati Prize for outstanding contributions to public outreach in mathematics by an individual. He'll receive the prize at tonight's closing ceremony of the International Congress of Mathematicians in Hyderabad, India. It carries a citation and a cash prize of one million Indian rupees (approx. US $20,000). Singh was selected by a committee of five eminent mathematicians.

Simon Singh was born on 1 January 1964 to Indian parents who emigrated to the U.K. in 1950 from the state of Punjab in India. He grew up in Wellington, Somerset, and did his schooling there. He studied physics at the Imperial College, London, and later got his doctorate in particle physics working at the Emmanuel College, Cambridge University as well as at CERN, Geneva.

Simon Singh

Simon Singh

In 1990 he joined BBC's Science and Features department and in 1996 directed a BAFTA Award winning documentary Fermat's Last Theorem exploring Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's nearly 400-year-old conjecture. Wiles' theorem also formed the subject for Singh's first book, Fermat's Last Theorem (1997). This was perhaps the first-ever popular book on mathematics to become a best-seller. Singh's other popular works on mathematics include The Code Book - The Secret History of Codes and Code Breaking (1999), which resulted in a television series called The Science of Secrecy, and a series for BBC Radio 4. Most importantly (from Plus' viewpoint) Singh established the Enigma project, which tours schools with a genuine WWII Enigma machine, which is now run by the Millennium Mathematics Project of which Plus is a part. More recently, Singh's legal struggle against the British Chiropractic Association made the headlines. Singh was being sued for libel for exposing the lack of evidence supporting chiropracty, but eventually won.

The Leelavati prize is named after the 12th Century mathematical treatise Leelavati, devoted to arithmetic and algebra, by the Indian mathematician Bhaskara II, also known as Bhaskaracharya. In the book the author posed, in verse form, a series of problems in (elementary) arithmetic to one Leelavati (perhaps this was his daughter) and followed them up with hints to solutions. This work appears to have been the main source of learning arithmetic and algebra in medieval India. The work was also translated into Persian and was influential in West Asia. Though the Prize has been instituted as a one-time award by the organising committee of ICM 2010, the committee is making efforts towards making it a regular feature at future ICMs.

Simon Singh on Plus:

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I am really glad that Mr Simon Singh was awarded with the Leelavati Prize.
His two books, "Fermat Last Theorem" and "The code Book" are really amazing, clear, engaging and very accurate.
He deserved a prize like this!