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Indian-origin professor Manjul Bhargava wins ‘Nobel Prize of Math’

NEW YORK: Manjul Bhargava, a Canadian-American teaching at Princeton University, has become the first mathematician of Indian origin to win the Fields Medal, the highest honour bestowed on scientists under the age of 40 for outstanding contribution to the field of mathematics.

Artur Avila from Brazil, Martin Hairer from Austria and Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian who teaches at Stanford University, have also been chosen for the medal, considered the Nobel Prize of mathematics and awarded once every four years since 1936.

The announcement was made on Wednesday at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), which is underway in Seoul, South Korea. Avila is the first Latin American and Mirzakhani the first woman to win the medal.

For India as well as for Bhargava, the medal has been a long time coming. Lauded by the International Mathematical Union (IMU) for “developing powerful new methods in the geometry of numbers”, the mathematician, best known for his work on elliptical curves, was tipped to win the medal the last time around in 2010, when the Congress was held in Hyderabad.

Bhargava, 40, is a number theorist of international repute. Born in 1974 in Canada to migrant parents from Jaipur, he won the SASTRA Ramanujan Prize in 2005, the Cole Prize in Number Theory of the American Mathematical Society in 2008 and, more recently, the Infosys Prize in 2012.

“The Indian contingent at ICM Seoul is delighted and excited. He is one of the finest mathematical minds in the world today and much more is expected of him in the future,” said Ramachandran Balasubramanian, director of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai, in an email from Seoul.

“The Indian mathematical community has kept track of Manjul’s path-breaking achievements over the last decade — he is an adjunct professor at leading Indian institutions — and expected him to win this award in 2010,” he said.

“The Fields Medal was long overdue,” said Rajat Tandon, a professor of mathematics at the University of Hyderabad. “Manjul’s approach is often quite simple but extremely creative. He revisits classical problems that have been set aside by others in a completely new way and achieves astounding success,” he said.

Adding to the jubilation, the Rolf Nevanlinna Prize, also awarded at the ICM once in four years — for outstanding contributions in mathematical aspects of information sciences including computer science — went to another Indian-origin scientist this year. Subhash Khot, a professor in the Computer Science Department at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, is the second mathematician from India to win the prize, after Madhu Sudan, an Indian-American computer scientist, won in 2002.