Sir Simon Donaldson, a renowned theoretical mathematician and a professor of mathematics in the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics and the Department of Mathematics at Stony Brook University, was awarded the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics on Nov. 9 at a star-studded event in a former NASA airship station in Moffett Field, Calif.
“It’s a great honor, and it’s hard to really feel that it’s real,” Donaldson said. “I have a lot of respect for the [other math prize recipients], and it’s great to be a part of that group.”
Donaldson, who was selected for his broad contributions to the fields of topology and geometry, was among 21 laureates recognized at the second annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony for their work in the fields of mathematics, physics and life sciences.
The Breakthrough Prize, a set of international prizes in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics, was founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Yuri Milner and Julia Milner.
Their goal in creating a $3 million prize is to celebrate scientists as celebrities, as evidenced by the lavish televised award ceremony that was reminiscent of celebrity award shows.
“Most of our time is spent on mundane matters,” Yuri Milner, a Russian Entrepreneur and one of the prize founders, said. “Tonight we thought about the molecules of life, the structure of prime numbers, the fate of the universe. It was an uplifting
occasion for everyone.”
Celebrities, including actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Diaz and Jon Hamm, joined scientists to recognize pioneers in scientific fields and to demonstrate the extraordinary
power of science.
Although this was the second year that life sciences prizes were awarded, this is the first year for prizes in the field of mathematics.
“Most people think of math as a purely analytical discipline, but it’s also something that’s very profound and creative,” Facebook founder Zuckerberg said. “And just as we celebrate the work of writers, artists and musicians, we also need to celebrate the brilliant and original contributions of mathematicians that are changing our lives and will change our lives in the future.”
In the field of mathematics, Donaldson’s work has bridged different flavors of geometry and his influence can be seen in his proof of the diagonalizability theorem, known as Donaldson’s Theorem, and his algebraic invariants of four manifolds, known as
Donaldson polynomial invariants.
He was the first to show that exotic 4-spaces exist that cannot be contained inside any differentiably embedded 3-sphere.
Donaldson’s work, at the interface of mathematics and physics, opened up a new area in the geometry of four dimensions.
Donaldson, who is also a professor of pure mathematics at Imperial College London, first became interested in mathematics after designing boats as a child.
“Traditionally, support for mathematics in the developing world has consisted mainly of scholarships for highly talented students to study in Europe or North America,” Richard Taylor, a Math Laureate, said in a press release. “The hope of the International Mathematical Union and our fellowship is that if these students study in centers of excellence in the developing world, then they are more likely to return to their home countries and help educate the next generation of mathematicians.”