Ukrainian becomes second woman to win Fields maths medal

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Ukraine’s Maryna Viazovska paid tribute to those suffering in her war-torn country on Tuesday when she became the second woman to be awarded the Fields Medal, known as the Nobel prize for mathematics.

Viazovska, a 37-year-old maths professor, received the prestigious award alongside three other winners at a ceremony in Helsinki.

“Not only for me but for everyone in the world and especially the people in my country,” she said, adding that her two sisters had been evacuated from Kyiv.

The International Congress of Mathematicians, the event where the prize is awarded, was initially scheduled to be held in Russia’s second city, Saint Petersburg, and opened by President Vladimir Putin.

The other Fields winners were France’s Hugo Duminil-Copin of the University of Geneva, Britain’s James Maynard of Oxford University and June Huh of Princeton in the United States.

– ‘Sad and angry’ – 

At the ceremony she paid tribute to Yulia Zdanovska, a young mathematician who was killed by a Russian missile attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in March.

“The fact that these dreams will not be realised, it’s terrible. We could just think of what kind of great future we could have had and what the war is robbing us of.”

In a decision made before the war in Ukraine began, Viazovska was awarded the Fields Medal for her work in sphere packing — a problem posed by German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler nearly 400 years ago.

It was such a complex problem that it was not considered proved correct in the third dimension until 1998 via intense computer number-crunching.

Marcus du Sautoy, a British mathematics professor at Oxford University, told AFP it was a surprise when Viazovska came up with such “slick proof” compared to the “tortuous proof needed in three dimensions”.

Du Sautoy said he hoped Viazovska’s win “will contribute to inspiring more women to choose mathematics as a career”.

Duminil-Copin, 36, is a professor at both the University of Geneva and the French Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques.

Maynard, 35, received the medal “for contributions to analytic number theory, which have led to major advances in the understanding in the structure of prime numbers”.

June Huh, 39, was given the award for “transforming” the field of geometric combinatorics, “using methods of Hodge theory, tropical geometry and singularity theory”.

“When I was young, math was like a faraway land, surrounded by giant walls that I could not climb,” Huh said in his video.

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Originally published as Ukrainian becomes second woman to win Fields maths medal


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