Reclusive genius shuns maths “Nobel Prize”
By Ben Harding
MADRID (Reuters) – The maths world’s biggest celebrity
shunned its most prestigious prize on Tuesday, apparently
bitter at his perceived mistreatment by fellow intellectuals.
Russian Grigory Perelman remained in his St Petersburg flat
while the greatest maths minds met in Madrid for the
International Mathematical Union’s four-yearly congress.
The 40-year-old recluse had been due to receive a Fields
Medal, known as the “Nobel Prize” of maths, after solving the
Poincare Conjecture — a quandary on the properties of spheres
that has bedevilled bedeviledmathematicians for more than a
The reasons for Perelman’s refusal remain unclear, though
press reports say he was hurt at not being re-elected a member
of St Petersburg’s Steklov Mathematical Institute last
John Ball, chair of the Fields Medal Committee, told a news
conference he spent two fruitless days in St Petersburg trying
to convince Perelman to accept the award.
Ball said his refusal “centered on his feelings of
isolation from the mathematical community.”
“Consequently he doesn’t want to be a figurehead of that
community. He obviously has a different kind of psychology to
other people,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from Perelman.
The Poincare Conjecture is so difficult the U.S. Clay
Mathematics Institute named it as one of the seven Millennium
Prize Problems in 2000 and pledged a $1 million bounty to
anyone who could solve one.
“They are like these huge cliff walls, with no obvious hand
holds. I have no idea how to get to the top,” said Terence Tao,
who won a Fields Medal on Tuesday, along with Perelman and two
Perelman is the only person to have solved any of the
Millennium Problems and his theory is on the verge of being
verified as three teams come to the end of years of checks,
Ball told Reuters. Whether he will accept the $1 million prize
from the Clay institute is open to question, but Tao is in no
doubt both prizes are deserved.
“It is a fantastic achievement, the most deserving of all
of us here in my opinion,” said the 30-year-old Australian.
“Most of the time in mathematics you look at something
that’s already been done, take a problem and focus on that. But
here, the sheer number of breakthroughs … well it’s amazing.”
(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk in St Petersburg)