Andrew Wiles’ Fermat’s Last Theorem proof wins Abel Prize

15 Mar 2016

A professor who became obsessed with trying to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem when he was a boy has now won the Abel Prize at the age of 62.

Often considered the Nobel Prize for the field of mathematics, the Abel Prize was awarded on 15 March at an event in Oslo, Norway to Andrew Wiles for his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

The theorem was first formulated by French mathematician Pierre de Fermat way back in 1637, and it stated that there are no whole number solutions to the equation xn+yn=zn when n is greater than two.

It been centuries since and, while there have been plenty of possible answers to this theory, few have been able to conclusively prove it, despite Fermat himself once claiming that he had solved it but without giving a complete answer.

According to The Guardian, Wiles’ decision to go public with his proof back in 1993 was well-received by his peers, but following the discovery of a mistake, he spent another year slaving over fixing the solution.

Changed mathematics for the better

Since then, his efforts have offered a solution for not only an ancient unsolved theory, but helped branch disparate branches of mathematics using tools he has developed.

Speaking to The Guardian, Wiles said of his solution: “The proof didn’t just solve the problem, which wouldn’t have been so good for mathematics.

“The methods that solved it opened up a new way of attacking one of the big webs of conjectures of contemporary mathematics called the Langland’s Program, which as a grand vision tries to unify different branches of mathematics. It’s given us a new way to look at that.”

Awarding Wiles a prize of 6m Norwegian krone (€600,000), the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters said that “few results have as rich a mathematical history and as dramatic a proof as Fermat’s Last Theorem”.

Here is Simon Singh, author of the book Fermat’s Last Theorem, talking about both the theorem and Wiles’ proof.

Cube which contains Fermat’s Last Theorem image (Jon Kuhn cube) via Alan English CPA/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic