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The winner of the Fields Medal for mathematics refused to accept the honour this week. This is a big win. The Fields Medal is often described as math’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. A reclusive Russian won the math world’s highest honour Tuesday for solving a problem that has stumped some of the discipline’s greatest minds for a century. He’s Grigory Perelman, a 40-year-old native of St. Petersburg and he solved the Poincar? conjecture. This essentially says that in three dimensions you cannot transform a doughnut shape into a sphere without ripping it, although any shape without a hole can be stretched or shrunk into a sphere. Experts say this might help scientists figure out the shape of the universe.
Perelman is also eligible for a great deal of money from a private foundation, the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass. In 2000, the Institute announced bounties for seven historic, unsolved math problems, including the Poincar? conjecture. If his proof stands, Perelman will win all or part of the $1 million prize money. That prize should be announced in about two years.
There is a Canadian connection here. The Fields medal was founded in 1936 and named after Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields. It comes with a $13,400 stipend. Fields began planning the award in the late 1920s but, due to deteriorating health, never saw the implementation of the medal in his lifetime. He died on August 9, 1932 but left $47,000 for the Fields Medal fund. Fields also helped establish the National Research Council of Canada.