Who is the greatest math genius alive?
The man who knocked out the million
St. Petersburg Few people would simply turn down a million dollar prize money. The Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman is one of them. The professional world celebrates the man from St. Petersburg for solving one of the greatest puzzles in mathematics in 2002: He proved the so-called Poincaré conjecture.
But he turned down the prize money for it, because he refuses awards just as relentlessly as interviews. Therefore, no one expects a lavish party for the 50th birthday of what is probably the greatest living math genius this coming Monday (June 13th).
A murmur went through the Russian public when Perelman rejected the Fields Medal in 2006, a kind of Nobel Prize in mathematics. The fact that four years later he turned down the Millennium Prize of the renowned Clay Institute for Mathematics in the USA, endowed with one million dollars, aroused astonishment and admiration.
The Poincaré conjecture has long been considered one of the puzzles of the century in mathematics, for the solution of which the Clay Institute in Cambridge offered prize money. The French Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) formulated his thesis on the properties of three-dimensional spaces in 1904. In a very simplified way, he said that any geometric object that does not have a hole can be transformed into a sphere. Almost 100 years later, Perelman published the evidence.
The worldwide enthusiasm was great, it was raining job offers. But the bald man with tousled hair around it and a thick dark beard remained iron, refused, avoided the press. It was said that this was necessary in order to be able to care for the mother.
In one of his few media appearances in 2010, Perelman spoke about his reasons for rejecting the award. "The main reason is, in short, my dissatisfaction with the organization of the mathematical community," he told the Interfax agency at the time. “I don't like their decisions, I think they are unjust. I think that the contribution of the American mathematician (Richard) Hamilton in solving the riddle was no less than mine. "
A genius who, a few years after the collapse of the USSR, helped Russian society, which was trimmed for success from the Soviet era, to regain its glory and renown, and who renounced material appreciation - that goes down well. Russian media like to describe Perelman, who was born in Leningrad in 1966, as modest, selfless, but also proud.
Nobody really knows what Perelman is doing
Myths surround the jubilee boy. For years he has lived a hermit life with his mother in Kuptschino, a typical Soviet-style residential area on the southern edge of St. Petersburg. Apartment blocks from the 1960s and 1970s with eight or more floors are monotonously lined up over hundreds of meters - a classic “sleeping area”.
In the past, the press literally besieged Perelman while trying to solve the riddle of Russia's puzzle solver and to stylize him as a Russian celebrity. The result: Perelman just buried himself further, sometimes not coming out of his apartment for days.
In the meantime, the hype about the number juggler has subsided. But on his 50th birthday, the tabloid "Komsomolskaya Pravda" makes a new attempt at contact. Without success. Perelman does not want to celebrate his birthday, the paper claims to have learned from close friends of the mathematician last week.
No one can say for sure what Perelman is doing, whether he is working or what his plans are. He gave up his job in a Petersburg institute years ago, apparently breaking off most of his social contacts. In the meantime there were rumors of an emigration to Sweden. Apparently he no longer cares about mathematical research. The Olympus of science, which was open to him through his evidence, does not seem to interest him.
The author Mascha Gessen, who is regarded as critical of the Kremlin, published a book about Perelman in 2009 (German title: “The Proof of the Century”, 2013). But even she did not speak to Perelman once while researching her work, it is said.
Occasionally, according to the gossip press, Perelman shops in a store near his home. The food of the genius: kefir, milk and bread rolls, sometimes also fruit. But nobody really knows - like so much in the life of Grigori Perelman.
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