It confounded mathematicians for centuries, but a professor at the University of Oxford who solved the 300-year-old mystery surrounding Fermet’s Last Theorem — formulated by French mathematician Pierre de Fermat in 1637 — has been awarded the 2016 Abel Prize.
Andrew Wiles, research professor of Mathematics at Oxford, has been awarded the top prize in the field “for his stunning proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem by way of the modularity conjecture for semistable elliptic curves, opening a new era in number theory”.
Wiles will receive the prize worth £500,000 (Rs 4.7 crore) from Crown Prince Haakon of Norway at a ceremony in Oslo in May.
Wiles said: “It is a tremendous honour to receive the Abel Prize and to join the previous Laureates who have made such outstanding contributions to the field. Fermat’s equation was my passion from an early age, and solving it gave me an overwhelming sense of fulfilment.
“It has always been my hope that my solution of this age-old problem would inspire many young people to take up mathematics and to work on the many challenges of this beautiful and fascinating subject.”
The university said that Fermat’s Last Theorem had been widely regarded by many mathematicians as seemingly intractable. It states that “there are no whole number solutions to the equation xn + yn = zn when n is greater than 2”.
Fermat himself claimed to have found a proof for the theorem but said that the margin of the text he was making notes on was not wide enough to contain it.
After seven years of intense study in private at Princeton University, Wiles announced that he had found a proof in 1993, combining three complex mathematical fields – modular forms, elliptic curves and Galois representations.
The university added that Wiles not only solved the long-standing puzzle of the theorem, but in doing so he created entirely new directions in mathematics, which have proved invaluable to other scientists in the years since his discovery.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, which presents the Abel Prize, said in its citation: “Few results have as rich a mathematical history and as dramatic a proof as Fermat’s Last Theorem.”