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Russian math genius rejects $1M prize

by Adam Wills

July 1, 2010 | 5:02 pm

Russian Jewish math genius Grigori Perelman is refusing the million-dollar Millennium Prize for solving one of the most difficult open problems in mathematics, the Poincaré conjecture.

The Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., confirmed Thursday that Perelman had called last week to refused its prize, but said he gave no reason. However, the news agency Interfax is quoting the reclusive Perelman as saying he believes the prize was unfair.

The Poincaré conjecture is one of the seven problems eligible for the million-dollar Millennium Prize, established by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000. Formulated in 1904 by French mathematician Henri Poincaré, the Poincaré conjecture is fundamental to achieving an understanding of three-dimensional shapes.

Perelman presented a proof of the century-old conjecture in three papers in 2002 and 2003 while he was a mathematician at the Steklov Institute of Mathematics in St. Petersburg, Russia. The proof followed the research program established by Columbia University mathematics professor Richard Hamilton.

Perelman resigned from his post in spring 2003 and has since stopped working in the mathematics field. According to a 2006 interview, Perelman is jobless, living with his mother in St. Petersburg.

The journal Science recognized Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré conjecture as the scientific breakthrough of the year in 2006, the same year Perelman rejected the Fields Medal, the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The reasons for Perelman’s rejection of the Millennium Prize are not totally clear. Interfax quoted him as saying he believes his contribution in proving the Poincaré conjecture was no greater than that of Hamilton, who first suggested a program for the solution.

“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,” Perelman said.

Clay Mathematics Institute President Jim Carlson said Perelman’s decision was not a complete surprise given his history of declining previous math prizes.

Carlson told AP that institute officials will meet this fall to decide what to do with the prize money. “We have some ideas in mind,” he said. “We want to consider that carefully and make the best use possible of the money for the benefit of mathematics.”

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