British mathematician has been awarded one of the discipline’s top prizes for solving a numerical problem that baffled experts for three centuries.
Sir Andrew Wiles, 62, has been awarded the Abel Prize by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters – and almost half a million pounds – for his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, which he published in 1994.
He will pick up the award and a cheque for six million Norwegian Krone (£495,000) from Crown Prince Haakon of Norway in Oslo in May, for an achievement that the academy described as “an epochal moment for mathematics”.
Sir Andrew, currently a professor at Oxford University’s Mathematical Institute, 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 academy said Sir Andrew, who was knighted in 2000, was awarded the prize “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.”
Cambridge-born Sir Andrew made his breakthrough in 1994, while working at Princeton. First formulated by the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat in 1637, the theorem states: There are no whole number solutions to the equation xn + yn = zn when n is greater than 2.
Previous British winners include Edinburgh University academic Sir Michael Atiyah, who shared the prize in 2004 with American Isadore Singer for their work on what is known as the Atiyah-Singer theorem.