Saturday, May 16, 2015

Terence Tao: The World Greatest Mathematician

Some excerpts about the biography and achievement of Terence Tao, or Terry, as he's mostly known, from the major newspapers from the past 9 years:

March 7, 2015

Terence Tao: the Mozart of maths from The Sydney Morning Herald

When he was nine, Tao commenced part-time studies in mathematics at Flinders University. By the time he was 16, he'd finished his science degree. He got his masters when he was 17 and his PhD at Princeton University at 20.

"He is arguably the world's best mathematician," says Joseph Rudnick, the dean of Physical Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where Tao, now 39, has been a mathematics professor since he was 24. "Other mathematicians speak of him in tones of awe." His talents, says Rudnick, are "other-worldly".

Tao has pages of awards, fellowships, prizes and medals to his name - most notably, the Fields Medal, the maths world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, which he received in 2006 when he was 31 "for his contributions to partial differential equations, combinatorics, harmonic analysis and additive number theory". Around about then, people started to describe him as "the Mozart of math".

Last year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Russian tech tycoon Yuri Milner recognised Tao's transformational contributions when they announced he was one of five recipients of their inaugural 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. Before the announcement, Tao tried to convince Milner not to give him the $\$$US3 million prize. He thought the money should be dispersed between more people. "I didn't feel I was the most qualified for this prize," he told The New York Times. (So far, Tao has put some of his prize money towards a travel fellowship for graduate students in developing countries, and a student fellowship for gifted American high-school students.)

Tao's modesty is almost as remarkable as his mind. It's the way he was raised, the Chinese philosophy, says his father, Billy Tao. "Even if you are very successful, you tend to say, 'No, I'm just pretty average,' " he says.

January 12, 2015

Discovery: Mathematician tries to solve wave equations from (National Science Foundation)

Wave equations help describe waves of light, sound and water as they occur in physics. Also known as partial differential equations, or PDEs, they have valuable potential for predicting weather or earthquakes, or certain types of natural disasters. For example, during the late stages of a tsunami, they could help forecasters calculate when it will hit land. "PDEs are a big reason why math is useful," says Terence Tao.

Tao, a professor of mathematics at UCLA, is interested in the theoretical side of these equations, seeking to discover with computer algorithms whether they can behave in a way that typically is the opposite of what occurs in the real world. He wants to see whether they can "exhibit blowup," or, essentially, explode.

July 17th, 2013

Terence Tao: The Mozart of Mathematics from Graviton

He received the 2006 Fields medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics for his contributions to partial differential equations, combinatorics, harmonic analysis and additive number theory.

The article , describing the award of the Fields Medal, gives this overview:

“Terence Tao is a supreme problem-solver whose spectacular work has had an impact across several mathematical areas. He combines sheer technical power, an other-worldly ingenuity for hitting upon new ideas, and a startlingly natural point of view that leaves other mathematicians wondering, ” Why didn’t anyone see that before?” At 31 years of age, Tao has written over eighty research papers, with over thirty collaborators, and his interests range over a wide swath of mathematics, including harmonic analysis, nonlinear partial differential equations, and combinatorics. ” I work in a number of areas, but I don’t view them as being disconnected,” he said in an interview published in the Clay Mathematics Institute Annual Report. ” I tend to view mathematics as a unified subject and am particularly happy when I get the opportunity to work on a project that involves several fields at once.”

Tao’s work is characterized by a high degree of originality and a diversity that crosses research boundaries, together with an ability to work in collaboration with other specialists.

In 2004, Ben Green and Tao released a preprint proving what is now known as the Green–Tao theorem. This theorem states that there are arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions of prime numbers. An area to which Tao has made many contributions is that of the Kakeya problem. This problem, originally posed in 2 dimensions, asked for the minimum area of a shape in which one can rotate a needle through 180° . The answer is rather surprising, in fact you can make the area less than any chosen number. Tao has worked on the n-dimensional Kakeya problem where again the minimum volume can be made as small as one chooses, but the fractal dimension of the shape is unknown. This problem sounds rather specialised, but on the contrary there are surprising connections to Fourier analysis and nonlinear waves.

April 16, 2008

Terence Tao to receive National Science Foundation's highest honor from
UCLA, Newsroom

Terence Tao, the first mathematics professor in UCLA history to win the Fields Medal, will be awarded the National Science Foundation's prestigious 2008 Alan T. Waterman Award on May 6 at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

Tao, who holds UCLA's James and Carol Collins Chair in the College of Letters and Science, said he is "very honored" to accept.

The annual Waterman Award, the highest honor the NSF bestows, recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by NSF with a research grant of $500,000 over three years. Congress established the award in 1975 to mark the 25th anniversary of the foundation and to honor its first director.

Tao won the Fields Medal, often described as the "Nobel Prize in mathematics," in August 2006 at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid. In the 70 years the prize has been awarded by the International Mathematical Union, only 48 researchers have ever won it.

May 10th 2007

Cogito Interview: Terence Tao, Mathematician and Fields Medalist from

In August of 2006, UCLA Professor Terence Tao won the Fields Medal, math’s highest honor, “for his contributions to partial differential equations, combinatorics, harmonic analysis, and additive number theory.”The Fields Medal is awarded every four years to two to four mathematicians aged 40 or younger. Dr. Tao’s stunning mathematical ability was evident early in his life. When he was 10, 11, and 12 years old, he represented his native Australia at the International Math Olympiad, and won bronze, silver, and gold medals. He is still the only student to have ever won a gold medal before the age of 13.He graduated from Flinders University at 15, got his PhD from Princeton at 21, and was a full professor at UCLA at 24. He was 31 last year when he won the Fields Medal. (One month later, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, often nicknamed the “genius grant.”)

Whereas many mathematicians like to focus on one area of math, Dr. Tao likes to work in many areas in the field, learning as much as he can as he goes along. He works in non-linear partial differential equations, algebraic geometry, number theory, combinatorics, and harmonic analysis, an advanced form of calculus that uses equations from physics.

His work on prime numbers was considered by Discover magazine to be one of the 100 most important scientific discoveries of 2004. That year, Dr. Tao, along with Ben Green, a mathematician now at the University of Cambridge in England, solved a problem related to the Twin Prime Conjecture by looking at prime number progressions — ­ series of numbers equally spaced.

30 Smartest People Alive Today from

Born in Adelaide in 1975, Australian former child prodigy Terence Tao didn’t waste any time flexing his educational muscles. When he was two years old, he was able to perform simple arithmetic. By the time he was nine, he was studying college-level math courses. And in 1988, aged just 13, he became the youngest gold medal recipient in International Mathematical Olympiad history – a record that still stands today. In 1992 Tao achieved a master’s degree in mathematics from Flinders University in Adelaide, the institution from which he’d attained his B.Sc. the year before. Then in 1996, aged 20, he earned a Ph.D. from Princeton, turning in a thesis entitled “Three Regularity Results in Harmonic Analysis.” Tao’s long list of awards includes a 2006 Fields Medal, and he is currently a mathematics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

You can watch for the video of Terence Tao's talk below:

You can find out more about Terence Tao in his blog, terrytao's blog.

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