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British maths genius wins £2.3m prize from Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation

A maths genius has won a £2.3million prize from Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation for working out the complex equations that result from stirring a cup of tea.

Martin Hairer, 44, from Imperial College London, hit the jackpot as winner of the 2021 Breakthrough prize for mathematics.

The Austrian-British researcher, who lives in London with his mathematician wife Xue-Mei Li, had been working on stochastic analysis.

The field, based on Japanese mathematician Kiyosi Ito’s calculus, saw him delve into how random effects turn the maths of things like stirring tea into complex problems.

Professor Hairer is looking to buy a house with his wife in London when the prize money goes in his account.

Martin Hairer (pictured in 2014), 44, from Imperial College London, hit the jackpot as winner of the 2021 Breakthrough prize for mathematics

The maths genius won the £2.3million prize from Mark Zuckerberg's foundation for working out the complex equations that result from stirring a cup of tea (file photo)

The maths genius won the £2.3million prize from Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation for working out the complex equations that result from stirring a cup of tea (file photo)

He created a complicated 180-page treatise on the idea of ‘regularity structures’, which left rivals stunned and saw one say he must have got it from intelligent aliens.

Describing randomness: Professor Haider’s work

Professor Hairer’s speciality is stochastic partial differential equations, which looks at how random acts turn normal things into chaos.

This can be on the movement of air in a wind tunnel or how a drop of water seeps across a tissue when it hits it.

But when the random act is very strong, solving the equation can become extremely difficult.

Professor Hairer’s creation of regularity structures, published in 2014, made it possible to tame the random act and reframe it, allowing him to solve the equations.

The Brit got the results for the 2021 Breakthrough prize for mathematics – created by Zuckerberg and Israeli-Russian investor Yuri Milner – on Skype during lockdown.

He said: ‘I was surprised but obviously very honoured. I’m very happy if I can inspire some people to study mathematics or even just understand a little bit better what maths is all about.

‘Maths is truth. Once you discover something in maths, it applies to all eternity.’

The genius was born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, where his advanced intellect was quickly discovered.

In a school science event he created a software which became Amadeus, know as ‘the Swiss army knife of sound editing’, which is widely used in the music industry.

Professor Hairer studied mathematics at Geneva University – where his father Professor Ernst Hairer is a mathematician – before doing a master’s and PhD in physics.

But he moved back into maths when he realised work in theoretical physics can quickly be written off and forgotten.

He said: ‘I wouldn’t really want to put my name to a result that could be superseded by something else three years later.

‘In mathematics, if you obtain a result then that is it. It’s the universality of mathematics, you discover absolute truths.’

Professor Hairer’s speciality is stochastic partial differential equations, which looks at how random acts turn normal things into chaos.

The Austrian-British researcher, who lives in London with his mathematician wife Xue-Mei Li (pictured), had been working on stochastic analysis

The Austrian-British researcher, who lives in London with his mathematician wife Xue-Mei Li (pictured), had been working on stochastic analysis

This can be on the movement of air in a wind tunnel or how a drop of water seeps across a tissue when it hits it.

But when the random act is very strong, solving the equation can become extremely difficult.

‘Science Oscars’: What is the Breakthrough Prize?

The $3million Silicon Valley-funded award is meant to confer Oscars-style glamour and prestige on the basic sciences.

The prizes are in physics, life sciences and mathematics.

Yuri Milner, a physician and internet pioneer who became a prominent Silicon Valley investor, created the prize in 2012 to make scientists stars, hoping to popularise the basic sciences and generate public support.

Unlike the Nobel, which often goes to retirees, the ‘Breakthrough Prize’ seeks to recognize recent discoveries, and not necessarily concrete applications of their work.

The prize is only eight years old but it is far more lavish than the coveted Nobel, which comes with prize money of around $1million and is often shared by two or three laureates.

Patrons include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Ma Huateng, founder and CEO of Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Explaining his research, Professor Hairer said: ‘I study a type of mathematics they call the stochastic partial differential equations.

‘They are the sort of equations that arise when you try to study something that evolves in time but also depends on space.

‘For example, like the wind in a wind tunnel you want to model the flow of air then that of course depends on time because it changes over time but it also depends on space – the velocity of the air is different at different points in the wind tunnel.

‘So if you have a system like this which furthermore evolves under the influence of randomness.

‘So if you have randomness that enters the game then that’s described by stochastic partial differential equation.’

Professor Hairer’s creation of regularity structures, published in 2014, made it possible to tame the random act and reframe it, allowing him to solve the equations.

The mathematician, who speaks French, German, Austrian and English, won the Fields Medal in 2014 – one of the highest maths honours – and was knighted in 2016. 

President of Imperial College London Professor Alice Gast said: ‘Martin Hairer’s breakthroughs have profoundly shaped our understanding of stochastic processes.

‘He has brought clarity to previously incomprehensible random phenomena and equations.

‘His creativity and deep insights have led to powerful advances in mathematics, physics, computing and finance.

‘Martin is an inspiring ambassador for Imperial, for mathematics, and for science – he is highly deserving recipient of the Breakthrough Prize.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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