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The Ukrainian becomes the second woman to win Fields’ math medal – Top Stories News – Report by AFR

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

Viazovska, a 37-year-old mathematics professor from Kyiv, received the prestigious award along with three other winners at a ceremony in Helsinki.

“My life changed forever,” when Moscow invaded Ukraine in February, she said in video shown at the ceremony, adding that her sisters had been evacuated from Kyiv.

“Right now, Ukrainians are really paying the ultimate price for our faith and freedom,” she said.

The International Congress of Mathematicians, at which the prize is awarded, was originally supposed to take place in Russia’s second largest city, Saint Petersburg – and be opened by President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier in the year, hundreds of mathematicians signed an open letter protesting the choice of host city, and after Moscow invaded Ukraine in late February, the event was moved to the Finnish capital.

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

The medal, along with CA$15,000 (US$11,600), is awarded every four years to two to four candidates under the age of 40 for “outstanding mathematical achievement”.

– ‘Tour de Force’ –

Viazovska was born in 1984 in Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, and has been a professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland since 2017.

At the ceremony, she paid tribute to Julia Zdanovska, a young mathematician who studied with the same teachers she had in Kyiv and who was killed in a Russian missile attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in March.

“Julia was a person full of light, and her big dream was to teach math to children in Ukraine,” Viazovska said.

“When someone like her dies, it’s like the future dies.”

In a decision made before the start of the war in Ukraine, Viazovska was recognized for her work on sphere packing – a problem first posed by German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler nearly 400 years ago.

In the so-called Kepler conjecture, he proposed packing spheres in the most compact way in a pyramid, like oranges in a supermarket.

But it was such a complex problem that it wasn’t considered correct until 1998 through intensive computer number crunching.

In 2016 Viazovska then solved the problem in the eighth dimension with a so-called E8 grid.

Marcus du Sautoy, a British mathematics professor at Oxford University, told AFP it was a surprise when Viazovska presented such a “smooth proof” compared to the “convoluted proofs needed in three dimensions”.

Renaud Coulangeon of the University of Bordeaux told AFP the solution was a “tour de force”.

The only previous female laureate in the more than 80-year history of the prize was the Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, who died of breast cancer in 2017, just three years after receiving the prize.

Du Sautoy said he hopes Viazovska’s win “will help inspire more women to choose math as a career.”

– ‘Expressing the unspeakable’ –

Duminil-Copin, born in France in 1985, is a professor at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques specializing in the mathematical branch of statistical physics.

He was honored for solving “longstanding problems in the probabilistic theory of phase transitions” which, according to the jury, have opened up several new research directions.

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

“His work is highly ingenious, often leading to surprising breakthroughs in important problems that seemed inaccessible with current techniques,” the International Mathematical Union said in a statement.

June Huh, 39, received the award for the “transformation” in the field of geometric combinatorics, “using methods from Hodge theory, tropical geometry and singularity theory,” according to the jury.

He’s a rare Fields winner who didn’t focus on math in his teens after a poor test result in elementary school convinced him he wasn’t talented, he told Quanta Magazine.

“When I was young, math was like a distant land surrounded by huge walls that I couldn’t scale,” Huh said in his video.

“I grew up in Korea and dreamed of becoming a poet, expressing the unspeakable. I finally learned that math is a way to do this.”

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