What is Perelman working on

Million dollar puzzle about Russian math genius

Grigori Perelman

The whole of Russia is rubbing against what is probably the greatest math genius in the world: Will Grigori Perelman from St. Petersburg accept the one million dollar Millennium Prize from the American Clay Institute for Mathematics for his arithmetic? "I'm still thinking about it," said the 43-year-old Russian media. With this answer, the Russian is now making himself a great mystery. Many wonder how someone can turn out a million dollars. Child and environmental activists ask Perelman for donations. And even Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is brooding over the hermit genius, which the public shies away from.

As early as 2002, the 43-year-old Perelman proved the so-called Poincaré conjecture - a mathematical puzzle of the century, unsolved since 1904, when the French Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) formulated his conjecture. But the man with the shaggy hair and the long beard doesn't want to know anything about fame, honor or money. Perelman, as he says gruffly, just wants to be left alone. He hasn't been working for a long time either.

“Grischa” remains dismissive

At his place of residence on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, the media have been stalking him for months while walking and shopping. But "Grischa", as many call the odd compatriot with the appearance of a Rasputin, remains dismissive. His neighbors are quoted as saying that the world-famous mathematician lives in seclusion with his mother in a small apartment. This is sparsely furnished - and populated by cockroaches. So it is obvious that half the world is now wondering whether he doesn't want to finally make a good life with all that money.

For some Russians, the million dollar price question has long been the number one topic of conversation - math or not. Since March, when the US institute recognized him, the speculation has not stopped. In the country with extreme social poverty, so much money should not simply "expire".

The St. Petersburg Communists, for example, still see Perelman as a “real Soviet man”. "Grischa", born on June 13, 1966 in what was then Leningrad, still embodies values. The communist Veronika Klinowitskaja also reminds that Perelman has returned home despite his years as a scientist in the USA. But at a million dollars the fun stops for the communists too. Should the money stay in the West, where researchers might be able to use it to make “bombs”, asks Klinovitskaya.

Why is?

Mathematicians say that Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture is hardly applicable to practical applications at the moment. The mathematical problem is about the properties of three-dimensional spaces. Put very simply, Poincaré's thesis is that all three-dimensional bodies that have no hole are not fundamentally different from a sphere - they can always be somehow reshaped into a sphere without tearing apart. This has long been proven for the two-dimensional surfaces of a sphere, a cube and other closed bodies.

Perelman was the first to show that this also applies to hypothetical three-dimensional surfaces in a four-dimensional space. He's explaining something that generations of mathematicians have found fault with. As early as 2006, Perelman was to receive the Fields Medal in Spain, a kind of Nobel Prize for mathematics. But he refused.

Selfless genius

When the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris invites on June 8th and 9th in Paris in honor of Perelman's solution, the genius himself stays away: "I don't drive," he said. The Clay Institute, which announced its decision for the Millennium Prize in mid-March, reacted calmly. This is a private matter for Perelman.

In Russia, the government is now even using the famous mathematician as a model for science. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised the selflessness of the genius who achieves great things out of pure enthusiasm. When the President of the Academy of Sciences, Yuri Osipov, recently complained about insufficient funding for science, Putin simply replied: “Think of Grisha Perelman. He even renounces money! "

Ulf Mauder (dpa) - Image: epa