Earlier this year, mathematician Grigory Perelman was offered a million-dollar Millenium Prize by the Clay Mathematics Institute for his proof of the Poincaré conjecture, which asserts that “Every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere.” Perelman didn’t accept the Millenium prize then, and the Clay Mathematics Institute announced yesterday that he will definitely not take the money.
For one, Perelman’s proof, which he submitted in 2002 and 2003 and which has stood up to scrutiny since, built upon the work of Columbia mathematics professor Richard Hamilton, and Perelman considered his singly receiving the prize money to be “unjust” on the part of the mathematics community. For another, Perelman objects to the celebrity conveyed by big mathematical prizes: When he declined the Fields Medal in 1996, he said, “I’m not interested in money or fame. I don’t want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I’m not a hero of mathematics. I’m not even that successful; that is why I don’t want to have everybody looking at me.”
Of course, declining the million-dollar prize has arguably brought Perelman more publicity than accepting it might have. But even if Perelman’s reasons are a bit on the inscrutable side (the Yahoo! News comments to the effect that he is “not such a genius after all” or doesn’t know that $1 million is “1 followed by a lot of 0s” are amusing, if not particularly insightful), you’ve got to respect Perelman’s sticking to his guns on an unpopular decision.
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