A reclusive Russian mathematician solved a $1 million question–but refused to take the prize money. Grigory Perelman has found a way to quantify voids, and has a proven the Poincaré conjecture. Proposed in 1904, it is based on topology — a geometry-related branch of mathematics that deals with spatial properties; the conjecture essentially states that any shape without a hole can be bent or stretched to form a sphere.
Perelman presented two proofs in 2002 and 2003, after which an elite team of mathematicians worked for several years to verify his results. Despite being invited to Madrid to accept the Fields Medal — considered the Nobel Prize of mathematics — he refused to attend. Perelman says the work of another mathematician was ignored, despite being equally relevant; he also feels that Russian journalists are being rude by shortening his name to “Grisha”, and has thus previously refused to give interviews.
After proving the conjecture, Perelman felt that the knowledge itself was better than the money offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, MA. “Emptiness is everywhere and it can be calculated, which gives us a great opportunity … I know how to control the universe. So tell me, why should I run for a million?” he was quoted as saying by journalist Alexander Zabrovsky in Russia’s daily newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda. Zabrovsky is also a producer who will be making a film about three advanced mathematical schools in Russia, China and the U.S.
The problem Perelman solved was one of seven on the Institute’s Millennium Prize list. Despite living in what neighbors think is poverty in a small St. Petersburg apartment with his aging mother, the self-proclaimed “man of the Universe” is content with simply being able to control it.
It somehow makes one content to know that there really are stereotypical reclusive mathematicians out there, working on the world’s greatest problems.