Russian Turns Down $1 Million Math Prize

Published: July 5th 2010
in News » World

Grigory Perelman
Pic: file photo

A Russian Jewish mathematician has turned down a $1 million prize for his solution to one of the world’s most puzzling math problems, saying that he feels the award is unwarranted.


Last week Grigory Perelman, a recluse who became a household name worldwide for his claim to have solved the previously unsolvable Poincare conjecture, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that he let the Clay Mathematics Institute, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, know that he will not accept the money.


He told Interfax that he does not think his solution to the proof of the Poincare conjecture went beyond the work of American mathematician Richard Hamilton. Hamilton was the first to propose a way forward on the conjecture. “I have refused,” the agency reported him saying. “You know, I had quite a lot of reasons both for and against. That is why I took so long to make up my mind.”


The Poincare conjecture involves shapes that live in four or more dimensions. The solution to the problem, named after French mathematician Henri Poincare, has eluded those in the math field for a whole century.


In 2003, Perelman put multiple papers online that alleged to detail how he had solved the conjecture. He then travelled for a short time around the United States but declined to give interviews. Afterwards, he went back to Russia, leaving the math world hanging as to whether he had really solved the conjecture.


Thereafter, mathematicians from around the world competed to check Perelman’s proof. During this time, Perelman resigned from his job at Russia’s Steklov Mathematical Institute, moved back home to live with his mother and cut all communication with the world.


In 2006, it became obvious that Perelman had solved the problem and he was given the Fields Medal, the math world’s most celebrated prize. However, he did now show up to claim the award.


In March, the Clay Mathematics Institute announced the $1 million prize, but at the time most people assumed Perelman would reject it. In June, a three-day conference in Paris dedicated to the proof took place without the reclusive mathematician’s presence.


Perelman told Interfax, “To put it short, the main reason is my disagreement with the organized mathematical community. I don’t like their decisions; I consider them unjust.”


On the Clay Institute website there is a statement affirming that Perelman has rejected the award.

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