Andrew Wiles, an Oxford University mathematics professor and Princeton University professor of mathematics emeritus, has been awarded the 2016 Abel Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for providing a proof to Fermat’s Last Theorem.
“Few results have as rich a mathematical history and as dramatic a proof as Fermat’s Last Theorem,” said the Abel Committee in announcing the award.
Wiles will accept the prize, worth approximately 750,000 Euros, from the prince of Norway in Oslo in late May.
The theorem was first conjectured by French mathematician Pierre de Fermat in 1637. The proof was considered the most famous, long-running, unsolved problem in the history of mathematics back in 1994 when Wiles solved it, ending a decades-long personal quest and ushering in a new era in number theory.
In 1963, when Wiles was a ten-year-old boy growing up in Cambridge, England, when he found a copy of a book on Fermat’s Last Theorem in a library and was intrigued by the problem.
“I knew from that moment that I would never let it go,” he said. “I had to solve it.”
In 1986, he began working on the theorem in secret, collaborating on the final proof with a former student, Richard Taylor, who received his doctorate in mathematics from Princeton in 1988.
Wiles earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1974 at Merton College, Oxford, and a doctorate in 1980 at Clare College, Cambridge. He was at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1981, and became a professor at Princeton University in 1982.
In 1985–86, Wiles was a Guggenheim Fellow at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques near Paris and at the École Normale Supérieure. From 1988 to 1990, he was a Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Oxford. He then returned to Princeton. He rejoined Oxford in 2011.
The recipient of numerous major prizes in mathematics and science, Wiles has honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, Yale, Warwick and Nottingham. He is the third Abel Prize recipient in a row associated with Princeton University. In 2015, John Nash shared the prize with Louis Nirenberg of Princeton University. In 2014, Yakov Sinai won the prize.