Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The prestigious Fields Medals for mathematics have been awarded. One of the winners is UCLA's Terence Tao. The article notes:
At 31, Tao is the youngest of the medallists, but with over 80 puplished papers to his name he had been tipped as a potential winner for some time. "I am still shocked. It hasn't sunk in yet," he said at a press conference after the ceremony.

Charles Fefferman, a mathematician at Princeton University and a Fields Medallist himself, remembers Tao as a 12 year old prodigy who was brought to Princeton by his father to be evaluated. "I thought that he had a little extra edge over other prodigies I had met. It turned out it was a big edge," says Fefferman.

Today Tao is known as one of the most powerful mathematical minds on the planet with major proofs under his belt in areas as diverse as number theory and the mathematics behind relativity and quantum mechanics.

Fefferman says Tao often works by assembling world class teams to work on problems and manages to bring the best out of each collaborator. "That's a rare ability," he notes.

Such is Tao's reputation that mathematicians now compete to interest him in their problems, and he is becoming a kind of Mr Fix-it for frustrated researchers. "If you're stuck on a problem, then one way out is to interest Terence Tao," says Fefferman.