A mathematician who tamed a nightmarish family of equations that behaved so badly that they were meaningless, he won the most lucrative prize in academia.

Martin Herer, an Austrian-British researcher at Imperial College London, Is the winner of the Mathematics Breakthrough Prize 2021, an annual prize of $ 3 million (£ 2.3 million) that has rivaled Nobel in terms of fame and prestige.

Herrer won the award for his work on stochastic analysis, a field that describes how random effects in mathematics affect things like stirring a cup of tea, the growth of a forest fire, or the spread of a drop of water that fell on a napkin. Its a very complex problem.

His main work, prof Dissertation of 180 pages That introduced the world to “structures of regularity,” so he astounded his colleagues so much that someone suggested that they had been transported to Herrer by a smarter alien civilization.

Herrer, who rented an apartment in London with his wife and fellow imperial mathematician, Xue-Mei Li, heard that he had won the award on a Skype call while the UK was still in lockdown. “It was totally unexpected,” he said. “I didn’t think about it at all, so it was a complete shock. We couldn’t get out or anything, so we celebrated at home.”

The award is one of several breakthrough Prizes It is announced every year by a foundation created by the Israeli-Russian investor Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. A committee of past recipients selects winners who are all considered pioneers in mathematics and science.

Other winners announced Thursday include a Hong Kong scientist, Dennis Lu, who drew inspiration from a 3D Harry Potter movie to develop a test for genetic mutations in DNA sheaths by unborn babies, and a team of physicists whose experiments revealed that if The extra dimensions were in fact, curled smaller than a third of the width of a hair.

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Another winner, Katherine Dulac of Harvard University, overturned misconceptions about parenthood by showing that the neural circuits of maternal and paternal behavior are present in both males and females.

Herrer grew up in Geneva where he quickly established himself as a rare talent. His entry into the school science competition is Amadeus – “The Swiss Army Knife for Sound Editing” – is now used in an updated form by music producers and game designers. He still maintains the program as a side line to his academic career.

After deliberating physics at the university, Herrer transferred to mathematics. The realization that ideas in theoretical physics could be turned over and quickly sent to the trash did not resume. He said, “I really don’t want to put my name in an outcome that could be replaced by something else after three years.” “In mathematics, if you get a result, then it is. It’s the universalism of mathematics, and it discovers absolute truths.”

Herrer’s expertise lies in random partial differential equations, a branch of mathematics that describes how randomness casts turbulence in processes such as the movement of winds in a wind tunnel or the creeping boundary of a drop of water falling on a fabric. When randomness is strong enough, solutions of equations get out of hand. “In some cases, the solutions fluctuate so wildly that it is not even clear what the equation means in the first place,” he said.

With the invention of regularity structures, Herrer showed how to reframe and tame the endless, rough noise that had thrown his equations into a mess. When he published the theory in 2014, it immediately caused an uproar. “Like everyone else, I was amazed to see a theory like this, elaborated from scratch, with little to no precedent,” said Jeremy Castel, a mathematician at the University of Toronto. Extraterrestrial source From theory.

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While his peers consider Herrer a genius, he admits that mathematics can be infuriating. “Most of the time it doesn’t work. As pretty much every graduate student in mathematics can attest, during a PhD, you probably spend two-thirds of your time stumbling and hitting your head against a wall.”

Hurer’s windfall profits haven’t reached his bank account yet, but when that happens, his life will change. “We moved to London fairly recently, three years ago, and we’re still renting. So it might be time to buy a place to live.