An Oxford Professor Just Won $700,000 for Solving a 300-Year-Old Mathematical Problem

March 17, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Mathematician Sir Andrew Wiles
Photo credit: Screen capture from video by University of Oxford

Who said having a passion for math wouldn’t pay off!

British mathematician, Sir Andrew Wiles has been awarded the 2016, Abel prize! Widely regarded as the Nobel for prestigious mathematics, he was awarded the prize for solving a 300-year-old mathematical theorem. The prize of 6 million Norwegian kroner (about $700,000 US) was handed to Sir Wiles on Tuesday at the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo during a conference.

Sir Andrew Wiles, 62, first got interested in Fermat’s Last Theorem as a ten-year-old boy after reading about the mathematical problem in a book called “The Last Problem” at his local library in Cambridge.

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In conversation with The Guardian, Sir Andrew Wiles said, “This problem captivated me.”

“It was the most famous popular problem in mathematics, although I didn’t know that at the time. What amazed me was that there were some unsolved problems that someone who was 10 years old could understand and even try. And I tried it throughout my teenage years. When I first went to college I thought I had a proof, but it turned out to be wrong,”

So what is Fermat’s Last theorem? In the video below, Marcus du Sautoy, the Simonyi professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University explains:


The famous theorem had challenged some of the greatest mathematicians for the past 300 years and was widely regarded as impossible to solve. Professor Wiles, after spending 7 years of intensive isolation in private study at Princeton University, announced in 1993 that he had found proof that the theorem could be solved by using three complicated mathematical fields, Modular formsGalois representations, and elliptic curves.

Sir Wiles not only solved the long-standing theorem, but in doing so he opened up new directions and fields in mathematics, which have been extremely valuable to other scientists and mathematicians since the theorem was solved, according to Oxford University.

The video below, Sir Wiles describes his delight when he heard that he had won the Abel Prize:


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