Vietnamese honored with world's most acclaimed math prize

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Ngo Bao Chau, a Hanoi-born mathematician, became the first Vietnamese to win the world's most prestigious prize in mathematics at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) that opened in India Thursday.

Chau, 38, was honored with the Fields Medal, generally considered the "Nobel Prize for mathematics." The Nobel Prize does not have a category for mathematics.

Since the prize was founded by the International Mathematical Union in 1936, only three Asian mathematicians have won it, all of whom were from Japan. Up to four medals are awarded every four years.

Now a French naturalized citizen, Chau once had his groundbreaking mathematical proof honored by TIME magazine as one of the top ten scientific discoveries of 2009. His discovery proved a theory that connected two branches of mathematics, number theory and group theory.

In 2007 he was granted Oberwolfach Prize, and the Prix Sophie Germain de l'Académie des Sciences de Paris.

The math whiz, who won two gold medals at International Math Olympiad when he was just 11 and 12 years old, received his doctoral degree from Université Paris-Sud in 1997 and won the Clay Research Award in 2004.

While he has accepted a professorship at the University of Chicago, Chau has been requested to help implement Vietnam's 2010- 2020 national math development program. The request was made by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan early this month.

Apart from Chau, the Fields Medals were awarded this year to Elon Lindenstrauss of Israel, Stanislav Smirnov of Switzerland, and Cédric Villani of France.

Held in India's Hyderabad city, the ICM 2010's opening ceremony saw the Nevanlinna Prize in the field of theoretical computer science awarded to Daniel Spielman of Yale University; and the Gauss Prize for applied mathematical work to Yves Meyer of France-based École Normale Supérieure de Cachan.

The event, held every four years, also introduced a new prize the Chern Medal to a scientist "whose lifelong outstanding achievements in the field of mathematics warrant the highest level of recognition." Louis Nirenberg of New York University became the first recipient of this award.

The ICM 2010 closes on August 27.

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