Kurdish refugee wins ‘Nobel of mathematics’ Fields medal

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Kurdish refugee turned Cambridge University professor Caucher Birkar has won the prestigious mathematics award, the Fields Medal (Screenshot: Harvard Math/YouTube)
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Handout picture taken on June 22, 2018 and released on August 1, 2018 by the University of Bonn shows German mathematician Peter Scholze talking about his field of work. Scholze was named on August 1, 2018 one of four winners of mathematics' prestigious Fields medal. (AFP/University of Bonn/Volker Lannert)
Updated 02 August 2018
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Kurdish refugee wins ‘Nobel of mathematics’ Fields medal

  • The laureates were announced at a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, which became the first Latin American city ever to host the even
  • Birkar was born in a village in the Kurdish province of Marivan, near the Iran-Iraq border

RIO DE JANEIRO: Kurdish refugee turned Cambridge University professor Caucher Birkar and an Italian who once preferred football to math on Wednesday were among four winners of the prestigious Fields medal, dubbed the Nobel prize for mathematics.
The laureates were announced at a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, which became the first Latin American city ever to host the event, staged once every four years.
“I’m hoping that this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people,” Birkar, a 40-year-old specialist in algebraic geometry, said, referring to the Kurds.
Born in a village in the Kurdish province of Marivan, near the Iran-Iraq border, Birkar has said: “Kurdistan was an unlikely place for a kid to develop an interest in mathematics.”
But he went from Tehran University, where he recounts having looked up dreamily at portraits of past Fields winners, to get political asylum and citizenship in Britain — and establish himself as an exceptional mathematical mind.
“To go from the point that I didn’t imagine meeting these people to the point where someday I hold a medal myself — I just couldn’t imagine that this would come true,” Birkar told Quanta Magazine.
The Fields medal recognizes the outstanding mathematical achievements of candidates who were under 40 years old at the start of the year. At least two and preferably four people are honored each time.
Co-winner Alessio Figalli, a 34-year-old Italian mathematician at ETH Zurich, had another unlikely start to academic superstardom, albeit for very different reasons.
“Until high school, his only concern was playing football,” the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) said in its announcement of the prizes.
That changed after Figalli entered the International Mathematical Olympiad, awakening a fascination for math that today has seen him become a leader in calculating variations and partial differential equations.


Figalli jokes that the one equation still baffling him is how to spend more time with his professor wife.
“I have work for the next 30 or 40 years. But there is one problem I really hope to solve soon: that is me and my wife living in the same city,” Figalli said.
As for Germany’s Peter Scholze, who was awarded the Fields medal for his work in arithmetic algebraic geometry, he says there’ll never be an end to the challenges he faces.
“There are an infinite number of problems,” said Scholze, who is at the University of Bonn and is only 30 years old. “Whenever you solve a problem, there are 10 more coming.”
The fourth laureate, Akshay Venkatesh, is an Indian-born, Australian-raised prodigy who began his undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics at the University of Western Australia when he was just 13.
Now 36 and at Stanford University in the United States, Venkatesh specializes in number theory and describes his work in terms more often associated with the artistic fields.
“A lot of the time, when you do math, you’re stuck. But you feel privileged to work with it: you have a feeling of transcendence and feel like you’ve been part of something really meaningful,” Venkatesh said.


SpaceX’s first private passenger is Japanese fashion magnate Maezawa

This artist's illustration courtesy of SpaceX obtained September 17, 2018, shows the SpaceX BFR(Big Falcon Rocket)rocket passenger spacecraft. SpaceX is to reveal on September 17, 2018 the identity of the first person it plans to transport around the Moon in an ambitious project financed entirely by its eccentric CEO Elon Musk. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2018
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SpaceX’s first private passenger is Japanese fashion magnate Maezawa

  • SpaceX in February transfixed a global audience with the successful test launch of its Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world
  • SpaceX has already upended the space industry with its relatively low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets

HAWTHORNE, California: SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space transportation company, on Monday named its first private passenger as Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, the founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo.
A former drummer in a punk band, billionaire Maezawa will will take a trip around the moon aboard its forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket spaceship, taking the race to commercialize space travel to new heights.
The first passenger to travel to the moon since the United States’ Apollo missions ended in 1972, Maezawa’s identity was revealed at an event Monday evening at the company’s headquarters and rocket factory in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne.
In moves typical of his publicity-seeking style, Musk, who is also the billionaire chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc, had previously teased a few tantalizing details about the trip and the passenger’s identity, but left major questions unanswered.
On Thursday, Musk tweeted a picture of a Japanese flag. He followed that up on Sunday with tweets showing new artist renderings of the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, the super heavy-lift launch vehicle that Musk promises will shuttle the passenger to the moon and eventually fly humans and cargo to Mars, using the hashtag #OccupyMars.
While the BFR has not been built yet, Musk has said he wants the rocket to be ready for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight in 2024, though his ambitious production targets have been known to slip.
SpaceX plans a lunar orbit mission. It was not clear how much Maezawa paid for the trip.
Maezawa made his fortune by founding the wildly popular shopping site Zozotown. His company Zozo, officially called Start Today Co. Ltd, also offers a made-to-measure service using a polka dot bodysuit, the Zozosuit..
With SpaceX, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic battling it out to launch private-sector spacecraft, the SpaceX passenger will join a growing list of celebrities and the ultra-rich who have secured seats on flights offered on the under-development vessels.
Those who have signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic sub-orbital missions include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber. A 90-minute flight costs $250,000.
Short sightseeing trips to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket are likely to cost around $200,000 to $300,000, at least to start, Reuters reported in July.
SpaceX has already upended the space industry with its relatively low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets. The company has completed more than 50 successful Falcon launches and snagged billions of dollars’ worth of contracts, including deals with NASA and the US Department of Defense.
SpaceX in February transfixed a global audience with the successful test launch of its Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
SpaceX previously announced plans to eventually use Falcon Heavy to launch paying space tourists on a trip around the moon, but Musk said in February he was inclined to reserve that mission for the BFR.