TIME names Vietnamese scientist on list of top ten discoveries

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A mathematical proof by a young Vietnamese mathematician has been honored by TIME Magazine as one of the 10 scientific discoveries of 2009.

Ngo Bao Chau was chosen for proving the theory that connected two branches of mathematics, number theory and group theory.

The theory, developed in 1979 by the Canadian-American mathematician Robert Langlands and thus now known as the Langlands program or the fundamental lemma, captured deep symmetries associated with equations that involve whole numbers.

Chau came up with the proof over the past few years while working at Paris-Sud University and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton.

Mathematicians around the world “breathed a sigh of relief” when the proof was checked this year and confirmed to be correct, TIME said.

“It’s as if people were working on the far side of the river waiting for someone to throw this bridge across,” Peter Sarnak, a number theorist at IAS was quoted by TIME as saying on the fundamental lemma. “And now all of sudden everyone’s work on the other side of the river has been proven.”

Chau, Vietnam’s youngest professor, was the first Vietnamese mathematician to win Clay Award in 2004.

The 37-year-old has also received awards from France Academy in 2008 and the Oberwolfach Mathematical Research Institute in 2007.

In 2004, Chau was invited to be professor at Paris 6 and Paris 11, two major universities in Paris, but he went to Paris 11 to work with mathematicians Gérard Laumon and Laurent Lafforgue.

Chau now teaches at the Natural Sciences University and the University of Education in Hanoi.

Other top significant findings in 2009 include the oldest skeleton of a prehuman hominid, the decoding of the human epigenome, a gene therapy that cures color blindness and water on the moon.

The Top 10 Scientific Discoveries was among 50 wide-ranging lists ranked by TIME’s The Top 10 Everything of 2009, including those in arts and entertainment, business, technology, sports and pop culture.

Source: Thanh Nien, Agencies

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