Ukrainian mathematician becomes second woman to win prestigious Fields Medal

Ukrainian number theorist Maryna Viazovska is among four winners of the 2022 Fields Medals, one of the highest honors in mathematics that is traditionally awarded to people under the age of 40. The other laureates are James Maynard, a number theorist at the University of Oxford, UK. ; June Huh, combinatorics specialist at Princeton University in New Jersey; and Hugo Duminil-Copin, who studies statistical physics at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) near Paris. The International Mathematical Union (IMU) announced the winners at an awards ceremony in Helsinki on July 5.

“All of the medalists are incredibly deserving and talented, demonstrating the dynamism of mathematical research around the world,” said Bryna Kra, a mathematician at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who is president-elect of the American Mathematical Society.

Viazovska, who is based at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is the second woman to win the award. She is best known for her solution to the problem of packing spheres—finding the arrangement of spheres that can occupy the largest part of a volume—in eight dimensions.

In three-dimensional space, the most efficient way to pack the spheres is in a pyramidal arrangement, similar to how oranges are packed on trays in a grocery store (proving this mathematically was extremely difficult and has been the subject of many studies). a paper tour de force in the 1990s). But in four or more dimensions, very little is known, says Henry Cohn, a mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “It’s this horrible gap in our knowledge – almost embarrassing to humanity,” Cohn said in a speech after the Fields Medal was announced. Viazovska introduced new techniques to the problem from number theory and eight-dimensional symmetry theory. “Given how poor our understanding is in other dimensions, it’s truly miraculous that Maryna was able to figure out exactly that,” Cohn added. More recently, Cohn himself has helped extend the result to 24-dimensional space.

“Viazovska invents new and unexpected tools that allow her to jump over the natural barriers that have held us back for years,” says Peter Sarnak, number theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

The Fields Medals and other IMU awards are normally announced at the opening of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), which takes place every four years. This year’s congress was scheduled to start July 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia, but the plan was scrapped following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Instead, the awards ceremony has been moved to Helsinki and the congress will take place as a virtual event.

“We condemn the folly, injustice and irreversibility of war which threatens the very existence of humanity,” four members wrote in what had been the statement from the local organizing committee on February 27.

The committee that chooses Fields’ winner – the identities of whose members were kept secret until today – is said to have made its decision before the invasion.

At a satellite conference at the ICM on July 2, another Ukrainian-born woman, Svetlana Zhitomirskaya of the University of California, Irvine, won the first Ladyzhenskaya Prize in Mathematical Physics – the first major prize for the discipline to be named after a woman but open to people of all genders. The award celebrates the late Russian mathematician Olga Ladyzhenskaya (1922-2004), who narrowly missed her own Fields Medal when her candidacy was considered in 1958. Prior to Vyazovska, the only woman to win a Fields Medal was the late Maryam Mirzakhani, in 2014.

This article is reproduced with permission and has been first post July 5, 2022.

Comments are closed.