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    Meet Akshay Venkatesh: The Delhi-born who got the Nobel Prize in mathematics


    Venkatesh won the Fields Medal for his “profound contributions to an exceptionally broad range of subjects in mathematics”.

    Venkatesh had been something of a child prodigy, finishing high school at 13 and earning his undergraduate degree at 16.
    When he was 13, Akshay Venkatesh told a journalist interviewing the exceptionally young high school graduate, “I’d like to do some research in physics or maybe become a mathematician or something like that.” The Delhi-born, Australia-bred mathematician has done that and then some, winning the prestigious Fields Medal this week. It’s deemed the highest honour in mathematics.

    The 36-year-old Stanford University professor, set to join the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Princeton, is the second person of Indian origin (and the second Australian) to win the honour. The first was Manjul Bhargava, who won in 2014. Coincidentally, both are recipients of the Infosys Prize for mathematics. Bhargava won in 2012 and Venkatesh in 2016.

    Srinivasa SR Varadhan, professor of mathematics at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, and the Infosys Prize jury chair, says, “All of Venkatesh’s work is characterised by stunning new insights… uncovering of new structures which were previously unsuspected. His work weaves together in a surprising way threads from many different fields, creating a wonderful fabric. It is really what mathematics is all about, unexpected, beautiful connections between different areas.”

    The Fields Medal is awarded every four years to up to four mathematicians below 40 years for “outstanding mathematical achievement”. A number theorist (who studies whole numbers, prime numbers and integers), Venkatesh won for his “profound contributions to an exceptionally broad range of subjects in mathematics”, according to the award citation.

    “Akshay is one of the very deepest mathematicians I know, and I have become a better mathematician by working with him. I am not at all surprised that he won the Fields Medal,” says Jordan Ellenberg, professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin and a friend of Venkatesh’s, who has collaborated with him. “I’m looking for new patterns in the arithmetic of whole numbers,” Venkatesh had said, while describing his work after winning the Infosys Prize.

    The Venkatesh family moved to Australia when Akshay was just two years old. Growing up, he had been something of a child prodigy, finishing high school at 13 and earning his undergraduate degree at 16 from University of Western Australia as its youngest graduate ever. By the time he was 20, he had already finished his PhD from Princeton University.

    His mother, Sveta Venkatesh, who is a professor of computer science at Deakin University, told The Australian that he had sailed through college, and used to play cricket with others in the corridors—this was despite Venkatesh finishing what would take normally four years, in just three.

    At Princeton, Venkatesh lives with his wife, Sarah Padden, a musicologist, and their two daughters. “Only 36 years of age, Venkatesh will continue to be an outstanding leader in mathematics for years to come,” writes Allyn Jackson, a former staff writer with the American Mathematical Society. The world, and India, will be watching that journey
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