University of Oxford scholar Andrew Wiles wins maths 'Nobel'

Academic is awarded Abel Prize by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for solving Fermat’s Last Theorem

March 15, 2016
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In illuminating the age-old mystery of Fermat's Last Theorem, Andrew Wiles opened up whole new areas of mathematics

The man who cracked Fermat’s Last Theorem has been awarded the Abel Prize for 2016.

Mathematician Sir Andrew Wiles will travel to Oslo in May to receive a prize worth about £500,000 from Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway.

Now Royal Society research professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, Sir Andrew came to worldwide attention when he proved a 300-year-old conjecture many mathematicians regarded as just too difficult to attempt.

This was the celebrated “last theorem” – stating that “There are no whole number solutions to the equation xn + yn = zn when n is greater than 2” – which Pierre de Fermat claimed he had proved in 1637, although he added that the margin did not leave him room to explain how.

Sir Andrew had been fascinated by the theorem since he was a boy and, like many great mathematicians before him, laboured long and hard to find a proof.

After seven years of intense private study at Princeton University, he announced that he had got there in 1993, using a method combining three complex and hitherto distinct fields of modular forms, elliptic curves and Galois representations.

Although he was acclaimed for opening up whole new areas of mathematics, a small flaw in the proof was also pointed out – which he finally managed to repair in 1995.

The Abel Prize, awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, is named after the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802-29), who himself did important work on the properties of elliptical functions. It is widely seen as the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel prizes.

Among those quick to congratulate Sir Andrew was Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson, who praised him for his “creativity, tenacity and sheer brilliance”.

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