Professor Akshay Venkatesh, a 36-year-old Australian mathematician, has been awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, known as the “Nobel Prize for Mathematics”.
The Fields medal is awarded at the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union, every four years to mathematicians under the age of 40. Akshay Venkatesh is the second Australian to be awarded the prize, the first being Terence Tao in 2008. There are now 16 Noble prize winning Australians in total.
Akshay was awarded the fields medal for his synthesis of analytic number theory, homogenous dynamics, topology, and representation theory.
“If it was easy for me to explain it to you, he wouldn’t have won the Fields,” said Michael Giudici, childhood friend and professor of mathematics at the University of Western Australia.
At the age of 13, Akshay was enrolled at the University of Western Australia. As a maths prodigy, Akshay skipped his first-year math subjects for his degree by completing his exams in the summer break prior to being enrolled.
Professor Cheryl Praeger, a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science who supervised Akshay’s honours thesis, told The Guardian of their first meeting. “Akshay was sitting at a table in my office reading my blackboard which contained fragments from a supervision of one of my PhD students… I found that he could easily grasp the essence of the research.”
At the age of 16 Akshay had earned first class honours in pure mathematics, before leaving for Princeton to pursue a PhD in number theory, which he was awarded by the age of 20.
After receiving his award Akshay said, “A lot of the time when you do math, you’re stuck, but at the same time there are all these moments where you feel privileged that you get to work with it. You have this sensation of transcendence, you feel like you’ve been part of something really meaningful.”
The fundamental question of Akshay’s studies interrogates the distribution of the prime numbers, any number that is divisible only by one and itself, a problem that has been troubling intellectuals since the ancient Greeks.
According to The Conversation, Akshay broke mathematical ground with the help of French mathematician Philippe Michel, when they solved the “subconvexity problem” for a large family of L-functions. Which was described, in 1999, as one of the most important problems in the area of number theory.
Akshay is a professor of mathematics at Stanford University in the United States, where he lives with his wife and two children.