Mathematics Continues To Entice Men And Women Alike

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Numbers are strange beings. They either entice you or repel you entirely for life. For those who have fallen in love with the numbers, the whole world seems like a sequencing of those furly looking scripts. And they will have nothing but number to crunch, munch and dream on.

Among the many names that have got mathematicians interested the world over, two personalities have stood distinctly apart this year. Both have won the most coveted award that honours the mathematicians globally. The most interesting thing is that both names stem from countries that have traditionally studied mathematics from time immemorial, even before the west woke up to the magic of numbers.

While the 40-year old Princeton University Professor Manjul Bhargava became the first person with Indian origin to win the prestigious 'Fields Medal' considered the 'Nobel Prize of Maths'; a native of Iran, Maryam Mirzakhani currently at Stanford University in California was Fields medallist. In fact, both have brought laurels to their home nations, being the 'first' ones to bag this honour.

The awards were announced at the International Congress in Mathematics (ICM), which was held recently in Seoul, South Korea. ICM is held every four years when the awards instituted by International Mathematics Union (IMU) are presented. Other winners this year included Artur Avila, Subhash Khot, Stanley Osher, Phillip Griffiths and Adrian Paenza.

This year, the event had a special reason to be celebrated with much pomp, for it was the first time ever that a woman was among the top winners. Maryam Mirzakhani is the first ever woman to be honoured with Fields medal, ever since the award was set up in 1938. She was chosen for the award for her "outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann Surfaces and their moduli spaces."

This 37-year-old Persian woman with somewhat dreamy-looking eyes had originally set out to be a writer and a poetess. But the attraction of numbers was so strong that she simply allowed herself to be drowned in the joy numbers created for her. Her enjoyment of solving theories and proofs, along with mathematical equations altered the trajectory of her life forever. It was like connecting the dots and solving a mystery case, albeit to reach the end of a logical conclusion and realise the happiness a 'larger picture' gave her. "It was like connecting the dots" she said, adding that the award for her was a moment of heightened excitement for the women world over. "I am sure many more women would be drawn towards the subject" she added. A very welcome gender-equality moment, indeed!

Manjul Bhargava, Indian origin mathematics Professor from Princeton University went into the ancient scriptures of mathematics based on the classic works of Indian mathematicians such as Pingala, Hemachandra and Brahmagupta. He worked on developing powerful new methods in the geography of numbers. He used this baseline work to count rings of small rank and to bind the average rank of elliptic curves. His work was deemed revolutionary for the expansion and growth of maths as a subject.
Image: Thinkstock

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