An Australian Mathematician Has Shared A $15 Million Prize Sponsored By Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin

Picture: Terence Tao UCLA homepage

You may not of heard of Terence Tao, an Australian who has been described throughout his career as a math prodigy and genius.

Tao is a Professor at the Department of Mathematics at UCLA. On his university homepage he says that he works “in a number of mathematical areas, but primarily in harmonic analysis, PDE, geometric combinatorics, arithmetic combinatorics, analytic number theory, compressed sensing, and algebraic combinatorics.”

That might not mean much to most readers, but it’s all helped Tao net $3 million as one of five inaugural winners of the Breakthrough Prize for mathematics.

The Breakthrough Prize organisation says that the prizes were “founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The prizes aim to celebrate scientists and generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career.”

In announcing the winners, Mark Zuckerberg said:

“Mathematics is essential for driving human progress and innovation in this century. This year’s Breakthrough Prize winners have made huge contributions to the field and we’re excited to celebrate their efforts.”

This is a huge accolade for Tao and his fellow recipients and easily dwarfs the rewards for the Fields Medal or the Abel Prize in Mathematics. Tao is already the poster boy for Australian maths, having had stories of his prowess circulated since he won the Fields Medal eight years ago.

He started university level maths courses when he was nine and is still the youngest winner of bronze, silver and gold medals in International Mathematical Olympiad history. (He won gold when he was 13.)

Despite his huge success to date, Tao told ABC Newsradio this morning he was still coming to terms with the Breakthrough Prize. Equally though, he also said that he had spoken to the other winners and they had decided that it was more money than they needed to live on so they would pool some of the winnings to establish a foundation to encourage younger mathematicians into the field.

Seems like the Breakthrough Foundation, through Tao and the other winners, is already achieving its goals.

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