Would you turn down $1 million?

Probably not, I wouldn’t. But neither of us are the brilliant but eccentric mathematician Grigori Perelman. On Friday I took our seminar speaker to lunch and we chatted about different perspectives on science and maths. The speaker is a mathematician at New York University (NYU), and briefly overlapped with Perelman when Perelman was at the Courant Institute at NYU. Perelman proved the Poincaré conjecture, a very important problem in maths. So important that it is one of the 7 Millenium Prize Problems, each of which has a $1 million prize. Incidentally, 5 of these are still unclaimed if you fancy a challenge.

A very very hard challenge. The sort of challenge that is typically solved by geniuses with so little interest in things-that-are-not-highly-abstract-maths that they are not interested in $1 million. I will not be taking up any of these challenge, I would have better odds of winning the lottery if I bought a ticket a week. I think that that is very literally true.

Returning to Perelman. He is clearly one crazy guy but we both admire him. Modern university life is often dominated by financial considerations. Students at Surrey are paying £9,000, while those at NYU are paying £13.500. Academics in both places are under pressure to bring in large research grants, and are judged (e.g., via promotion) by the income they bring in. Perelman refuses to play this game. It is inspiring to see a guy taking on the world on his own terms. The world needs some idealists.

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