Sir Andrew J Wiles, 62, was awarded the Abel prize by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo this Tuesday for his twenty-year study on finding a solution to the “Fermat's Last Theorem.”
“This problem captivated me,” Wiles told The Guardian. “It was the most famous popular problem in mathematics, although I didn’t know that at the time. What amazed me was that there were some unsolved problems that someone who was 10 years old could understand and even try. And I tried it throughout my teenage years. When I first went to college I thought I had a proof, but it turned out to be wrong,” he said.
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The British mathematician first revealed his findings in 1993 to a lecture at Cambridge University. But since then, his work has undergone some changes after an error was noted in 1994.
The Abel prize is often referred to as the mathematician's "Nobel Prize". Aside from the pride and honour, the award also comes with $720,000 in prize money.
The mathematical theorem was proposed by Pierre de Fermat in 1637, which states “an + bn = cn. This equation has no solution in integers for n≥3.” In other words, n can never be more than 2 for the equation to work. It may seem simple enough, but definitive proof of the theory had alluded mathematicians throughout the centuries. You can learn more about the problem in the video below.
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On hearing of his success, Wiles said it was a “tremendous honour” to receive the prize, but conceded he had not thought about what to do with the half a million pounds that accompanies the award.
The methods Wiles developed to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem have had a lasting impact on mathematics and are still being put to use today. “The proof didn’t just solve the problem, which wouldn’t have been so good for mathematics. The methods that solved it opened up a new way of attacking one of the big webs of conjectures of contemporary mathematics called the Langland’s Program, which as a grand vision tries to unify different branches of mathematics. It’s given us a new way to look at that,” he said.
This article originally appeared on The Guardian.
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