In the New Yorker, Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber have more on Grigory Perelman and the story behind the proof of the Poincar conjecture.
Grigory Perelman is indeed reclusive. He lef his job as a researcher at the Steklov Institute o Mathematics, in St. Petersburg, last December he has few friends; and he lives with his mothe in an apartment on the outskirts of the city Although he had never granted an intervie before, he was cordial and frank when w visited him, in late June, shortly after Yau’ conference in Beijing, taking us on a lon walking tour of the city. “I’m looking for som friends, and they don’t have to b mathematicians,” he said. The week before th conference, Perelman had spent hour discussing the Poincaré conjecture with Si John M. Ball, the fifty-eight-year-old presiden of the International Mathematical Union, th discipline’s influential professional association The meeting, which took place at a conferenc center in a stately mansion overlooking th Neva River, was highly unusual. At the end o May, a committee of nine prominen mathematicians had voted to award Perelman Fields Medal for his work on the Poincaré, an Ball had gone to St. Petersburg to persuade hi to accept the prize in a public ceremony at th I.M.U.’s quadrennial congress, in Madrid, on August 22nd
The Fields Medal, like the Nobel Prize, grew, in part, out of a desire to elevate science above national animosities. German mathematicians were excluded from the first I.M.U. congress, in 1924, and, though the ban was lifted before the next one, the trauma it caused led, in 1936, to the establishment of the Fields, a prize intended to be “as purely international and impersonal as possible.”
However, the Fields Medal, which is awarded every four years, to between two and four mathematicians, is supposed not only to reward past achievements but also to stimulate future research; for this reason, it is given only to mathematicians aged forty and younger. In recent decades, as the number of professional mathematicians has grown, the Fields Medal has become increasingly prestigious. Only forty-four medals have been awarded in nearly seventy years—including three for work closely related to the Poincaré conjecture—and no mathematician has ever refused the prize. Nevertheless, Perelman told Ball that he had no intention of accepting it. “I refuse,” he said simply.
[Hat tip: Anna Hall.]