Four mathematicians received the Fields Medal in Helsinki, Finland on Tuesday, including the Ukrainian Maryna Viazovska, the second woman to receive the prestigious award since its creation in 1936.
The other three winners of the prize, considered the equivalent of the “Nobel Prize in Mathematics”, are Frenchman Hugo Duminil-Copin, British James Maynard and South Korean-American June Huh.
The gold medal, awarded every four years and accompanied by a check for 15,000 Canadian dollars (just over $11,500), rewards “outstanding achievements” for mathematicians under 40.
The announcement came at a ceremony in Finland’s capital, Helsinki, during the International Congress of Mathematicians.
The ceremony was initially scheduled for St. Petersburg, but was moved to Helsinki due to the invasion of Ukraine.
“The brutal war that Russia continues to wage against Ukraine has left no alternative,” lamented the president of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), Carlos Kenig.
“My Life Changed Forever”
Maryna Viazovska is the second woman to receive the medal in 80 years.
She was born in 1984 in Ukraine, when the country was still part of the Soviet Union, and has been a professor at the Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne, Switzerland, since 2017.
With the invasion of Ukraine in February, “my life has changed forever,” Viazovska said.
The Ukrainian won the award for having solved a version of a century-old geometric problem, in which she demonstrated the densest packing of identical spheres in eight dimensions.
The “ball packing problem” dates back to the 16th century, when the question was posed of how cannonballs should be stacked to get the densest possible solution. The jury made the decision before the start of the war.
The first woman to receive the Fields Medal was Maryam Mirzakhani in 2014, an Iranian mathematician who passed away three years after a battle with cancer.
The works of 36-year-old Frenchman Duminil-Copin focus on the mathematical area of statistical physics. He is a professor at the ‘Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques’ in the Paris region and at the University of Geneva.
He was awarded for solving “long-standing problems in the probabilistic theory of phase transitions”, which, according to the jury, opened several new directions for research.
James Maynard, 35, is a professor at the University of Oxford in the UK. He received the medal for his “contributions to analytic number theory, which allowed important advances in the understanding of the structure of prime numbers and the Diophantine approximation”.
June Huh, 39, a professor at Princeton University in the United States, received the award for “transforming” the field of geometric combinatorics, “using methods from Hodge’s theory, tropical geometry and singularity theory,” said the jury.
Tropical geometry was named in honor of the pioneer of the discipline, the Brazilian computer scientist Imre Simon, who died in 2009.