Formerly Unknown Mathematics Professor Receives “Genius Grant”
The MacArthur Fellows Program, commonly known as the “Genius Grant” just announced their recipients for 2014. As always, they are extremely impressive experts at the top of their respective fields - but for me, one in particular stuck out.
The Simons Foundations starts telling the story like this:
On April 17, a paper arrived in the inbox of Annals of Mathematics, one of the discipline’s preeminent journals. Written by a mathematician virtually unknown to the experts in his field — a 50-something lecturer at the University of New Hampshire named Yitang Zhang — the paper claimed to have taken a huge step forward in understanding one of mathematics’ oldest problems, the twin primes conjecture.
Unknown ‘experts’ are always making similarly large claims to prestigious institutions, but this paper was different. The reception Zhang received was incredible: “The main results are of the first rank,” the author had proved “a landmark theorem in the distribution of prime numbers.”
Zhang was a researcher that no one seemed to know, his talents had been overlooked his entire career: “after he earned his doctorate in 1991 that he had found it difficult to get an academic job, working for several years as an accountant and even in a Subway sandwich shop.”
“Basically, no one knows him,” said Andrew Granville, a number theorist at the Université de Montréal. “Now, suddenly, he has proved one of the great results in the history of number theory.”
Read more about Zhang’s incredible discovery here and here.
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