Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Who doesn't want to be a millionaire?

Does the following statement mean anything to you:
If a compact 3-dimensional manifold M^3 has the property that every simple closed curve within the manifold can be deformed continuously to a point, does it follow that M^3 is homeomorphic to the sphere S^3?
That statement is the Poincaré Conjecture, a famous mathematical problem that was first formulated by Henri Poincaré in 1904.

The Conjecture was only solved almost a century later, in 2002 and 2003, in a series of three revolutionary papers by the Russian Jewish mathematician, Dr. Grigori Perelman.

In recognition of his monumental achievement, Dr. Perelman was awarded a Fields Medal in 2006 and, about two weeks ago, the first Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize. The Fields Medal is the most prestigious prize in mathematics, whilst the Clay Millennium Prize is the most lucrative with prize money of US$ 1 million.

All that is remarkable enough.

What is even more remarkable is that Dr. Perelman has turned down both prizes, the first and only person ever to do so.


The answer, complete with all the relevant background and key players, is told in a long and fascinating article by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber that was published in The New Yorker in August 2006.

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