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Ukrainian Becomes 2nd Woman to Win Fields Medal, ‘Nobel of Mathematics’

Prior to Viazovska, only the late Maryam Mirzakhani was a recipient of a Fields Medal in 2014

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Russell Chattaraj
Russell Chattaraj
Mechanical engineering graduate, writes about science, technology and sports, teaching physics and mathematics, also played cricket professionally and passionate about bodybuilding.

UKRAINE: Maryna Viazovska, a Ukrainian number theorist, is one of the four recipients of the 2022 Fields Medals, one of mathematics’ greatest honours often given to individuals under the age of 40. 

James Maynard, a number theorist at the University of Oxford in the UK, June Huh, a combinatorics expert at Princeton University in New Jersey, and Hugo Duminil-Copin, a statistical physics researcher at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies (IHES) close to Paris, are the other winners. At a prize presentation held on July 5 in Helsinki, the International Mathematical Union (IMU) revealed the winners. 

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The second woman to ever receive the honour is Viazovska, who works at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). She is most known for her eight-dimensional solution to the sphere packing issue, which involves determining the configuration of spheres that can occupy the largest amount of space. 

Sphere packing in 3d. Photo Credit: Multiple sources

The pyramid configuration, which is similar to how oranges are arranged on trays at a grocery store, is the most effective technique to pack spheres in a three-dimensional space (proving this mathematically is tough and was the subject of a tour-de-force paper in the 1990s).

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But according to Cambridge-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician Henry Cohn, very little is understood about four or more dimensions. 

Viazovska applied new methods to the issue, arriving from the number theory and the eight-dimensional theory of symmetries. Given how little we understand about other dimensions, Cohn continued, “it’s truly astonishing that Maryna was able to capture this exactly.” Cohn has recently contributed to expanding the outcome to 24-dimensional space. 

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Every four years, the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) opens with the announcement of the Fields Medals and other IMU awards. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the congress’s original start date of July 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia, was cancelled. The awards ceremony was instead relocated to Helsinki, and the congress will now take place virtually. 

The committee that selects the Fields winner apparently made its choice before the invasion. The identity of its members were kept hidden until today. 

Svetlana Jitomirskaya of the University of California, Irvine, earned the first Ladyzhenskaya Prize in Mathematical Physics on July 2 at a satellite session to the ICM. 

This is the first significant award for the field to be named after a woman but available to individuals of any gender. The award honours the late Russian mathematician Olga Ladyzhenskaya (1922-2004), who was almost awarded the 1958 Fields Medal but fell just short. Prior to Viazovska, only the late Maryam Mirzakhani was a recipient of a Fields Medal in 2014.

Also Read: 10 Years of Higgs Boson Discovery: ATLAS and CMS Publishes Most Detailed Investigations

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  • Russell Chattaraj

    Mechanical engineering graduate, writes about science, technology and sports, teaching physics and mathematics, also played cricket professionally and passionate about bodybuilding.

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