This week was a huge mathematical week for a lot of reasons. I don’t even what to mention Pi Day anymore, but on Tuesday was the Abel Prize Award and I was incredibly excited for it. Also, this year was one of those few years when I totally know what the winner has been doing and I have followed his story for a while. So I thought I will talk a little about the Abel Prize Award in general and about 2016 winner.
The Abel Prize Award is the mathematical corespondent of the Nobel Prize. The Prize is named after the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802 – 1829). He worked in a variety of mathematical fields and he left a huge amount of work. What is mostly interesting for me is that his work was done in six or seven years of his working life. Regarding Abel, the French mathematician Charles Hermite said: “Abel has left mathematicians enough to keep them busy for five hundred years.” If you want to read more about Niels Abel I recommend an older post of mine: Niels Abel.
The Abel Prize was first proposed in 1899, especially after it was known that the Nobel Prize is not going to include a prize in mathematics. The prize was proposed to be part of the 1902 celebration of 100th anniversary of Abel’s birth by mathematician Sophus Lie. Things started to be put into order for organizing such an event, but after Sophus Lie died and other problems (mostly political between Sweden and Norway) appeared, the first attempt to create the Prize ended. Things started to move after almost 100 years, in 2001 when a group was formed to develop a proposal, which was presented to the Prime Minister of Norway. After this the Norwegian government announced that the prize would be awarded beginning in 2002 – the 200th anniversary of Abel’s birth (exactly 100 years after the first proposal in 1902). If you want to read more about the history of the event and all the laureates during the time I totally advice to check the official website.
This year, it was decided that the Abel Prize Award should go to Sir Andrew J. Wiles for
his stunning proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem by way of the modularity conjecture for semistable elliptic curves, opening a new era in number theory.
The story about Fermat’s Last Theorem is incredibly old. The problem states that no 3 positive integers a, b and c satisfy the an + bn = cn for any integer value of n strictly greater than 2. The theorem was first stated by Pierre de Fermat in 1637 in the margin of a copy of Arithmetica where he also claimed he had a proof that was to large to fit in the margin. After this mathematicians tried in vain to find a proof for it for approximately 360 years. Moreover, the theorem was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “the most difficult mathematical problem” due to the fact that it has the largest number of unsuccessful proofs.
The first successful proof was released in 1994 by Andrew Wiles and published in 1995 – 358 years of pure struggle, trial and error from mathematicians all over the world. Andrew Wiles, an English mathematician with a childhood fascination with Fermat’s Last Theorem, and a prior study area of elliptical equations, decided to commit himself to accomplishing the second half: proving a special case of the modularity theorem (then known as the Taniyama–Shimura conjecture) for semistable elliptic curves. Wiles worked on that task for six years in near-total secrecy, covering up his efforts by releasing prior work in small segments as separate papers and confiding only in his wife. The unsolved problem stimulated the development of algebraic number theory in the 19th century and the proof of the modularity theorem in the 20th century.
If you want to hear more about all Sir Andrew Wiles has gone through to solve it, I totally recommend watching the BBC Documentary: 1995 – 1996 Fermat’s Last Theorem. In the end I will let you with this short video, enjoy:
Don’t forget that maths is everywhere! Enjoy! ~LThMath