Terry Tao wins Fields Medal
"for his contributions to partial differential equations, combinatorics, harmonic analysis and additive number theory".
Terence Tao is a supreme problemsolver whose spectacular work has had an impact across several mathematical areas. He combines sheer technical power, an otherworldly ingenuity for hitting upon new ideas, and a startlingly natural point of view that leaves other mathematicians wondering, "Why didn't anyone see that before?". His interests range over a wide swath of mathematics, including harmonic analysis, nonlinear partial differential equations, and combinatorics.
Professor Terry Tao, of the University of California at Los Angeles, was
awarded the Fields Medal, often called the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics",
at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid today (22 August
2006). Terry grew up in Adelaide, and holds Bachelor and Master degrees
in Mathematics from the Flinders University of South Australia. His work
spans a broad range of pure mathematics, and is breathtaking in both scope
and depth. Terry is the first Australian to win this award, the most
prestigious in the world for mathematics, and this is one of the most
significant achievements of Australian Science.
Terry Tao
Terry was a child prodigy who was born in Adelaide on July 17, 1975, and
grew up there. He won medals three times at the International
Mathematical Olympiads, a competition for high school aged students, but
Terry was over five years younger than most of the other competitors. He
began his studies for his Bachelor of Science degree at Flinders
University in his early teens, and completed this degree with First Class
Honours in Mathematics, followed by a Master of Science degree in
Mathematics, under the direction of Professor Garth Gaudry, while still a
teenager. He continued with a Doctor of Philosophy from Princeton
University before his twentyfirst birthday, and since then has been
mainly based at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was
the youngest full professor in living memory. In the last decade, he has
come back to Australia on many occasions, including two sixmonth visits
to the University of New South Wales (Sydney) and two sixmonth visits to
the Australian National University (Canberra), where he is an Honorary
Professor. He has won many awards, including the Medal of the Australian
Mathematical Society in 2005, and he is a Corresponding Member of the
Australian Academy of Science. For more details, see his website
www.math.ucla.edu/~tao/.
Terry Tao's work and its significance
Terry has worked in a number of different mathematical areas, and he has
been remarkably prolificthe rate at which he writes high quality papers
sets him apart from most leading mathematicians in the world.
His early work was in harmonic analysis. This part of mathematics seeks
to understand complex phenomena such as electrical signals by breaking
them down as a sum of simple phenomena, and underpins modern signal
processing (for radio and television, for instance) and image compression
(for jpeg image and mp3 music files). From this he moved into the study
of nonlinear partial differential equations, which explain
hardtounderstand physical phenomena such as the transmission of light in
fibre optics. He has also worked in algebra, explaining symmetries of
complex systems, and in number theory, making one of the biggest leaps in
understanding the distribution of prime numbers in the last hundred years.
The study of prime numbers used to be considered one of the most esoteric
fields of mathematics, and G. H. Hardy, a Cambridge professor of the early
1900s, famously used to boast that his work in this area would never be
applied, but these days prime numbers are used to safely encode data, such
as the details of ATM and EFTPOS transactions, for sending along telephone
lines and other insecure transmission channels, and Hardy's work underpins
millions of safe transactions every day. His work in combinatorics was
another of the contributions recognised in the Fields Medal Citation.
The Fields Medal
There are amusing stories about why there are no Nobel Prizes in
Mathematics (see www.cs.uwaterloo.ca/~alopezo/mathfaq/node50.html
), based on a
presumed antipathy or rivalry for the affections of a woman between Alfred
Nobel and the Swedish mathematician Gosta MittagLeffler. The Fields
Medal was set up as a result of the efforts of the Canadian mathematician
John Charles Fields (see
wwwhistory.mcs.standrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Fields.html and links
from this page); the first Medal was awarded in 1936, and following a
break for the Second World War, Fields medals have been awarded every four
years since 1950. A total of fortythree medals have been awarded between
1936 and 2002. Other relevant information is at
www.mathunion.org/General/Awards.html
Other Fields Medal winners
There were three other winners, Andrei
Okounkov, Grigori Perelman and Wendelin Werner. In the words of
Sir John Ball, IMU President, who announced the Medallists and
read short citations, Perelman "declined to accept the Medal". This
refusal has become the subject of press interest: there are several newspaper
articles offering differing explanations for this. One story suggests that
he fought with his colleagues in St
Petersburg over (possibly imagined) slights; rumours are circulating that
he refused $1,000,000 from the Clay Foundation for different reasons;
certainly he was not present at the ceremony today.
Other Prizes and Medals
King Juan Carlos of Spain also presented the Nevanlinna Prize, for
theoretical computer science, to Jon Kleinberg, and the Gauss Medal, for
applied mathematics which has had impact outside mathematics, to the
daughter of Kiyoshi Ito, who was unable to attend for health reasons; he
is over 90 years old. Australia's Ian Sloan was on the committee which
chose the Gauss Prize winner.
Terry will visit Australia in late September, for the AustMS Annual
Conference at Macquarie University.

Terry with the Fields Medal (photo taken by Michael Cowling at noon on Wed 23 Aug 2006, two hours after his plenary lecture at ICM in Madrid (with thanks to Neville Smythe for further editing))
Further links
International Congress of Mathematicians
Minister for Education, Science and Training
The 7.30 report
SBS  The World News
Channel Seven
7News Video
UCLA News
AAP
ABC News Online
The Australian
Sydney Morning Herald 1
Sydney Morning Herald 2
The Age
Herald Sun
BBC
New York Times 1
New York Times 2
New York Times 3
The Guardian
The Funneled Web
Trevisan's blog
Wikipedia
Terry's website.
Interview with Terence
Tao
