This Man Won the Top Prize in Mathematics — Then Someone Immediately Stole It
Caucher Birkar, 40, receives the Fields Medal, math's most prestigious prize, during the International Congress of Mathematicians in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Credit: STR/AFP/Getty

Yesterday (Aug. 1), University of Cambridge mathematician Caucher Birkar won the Fields Medal — the highest prize in mathematics, awarded every four years to a small group of mathematicians age 40 or younger. The award came with a 14-carat gold medal and 15,000 Canadian dollars (about $11,500). According to the BBC, Birkar put the medal in his briefcase, along with his wallet and phone, and left the briefcase on a table in the Rio de Janeiro conference center where the award was presented.  

When he returned, the briefcase was gone. 

Birkar was one of four mathematicians to recieve a Fields Medal in 2018. He recieved the prize for his work in the field of algebraic geometry.

"As a mathematician," Quanta Magazine explained in a profile published Aug. 1, "Birkar has helped bring order to the infinite variety of polynomial equations — those equations that consist of different variables raised to various powers. No two equations are exactly alike, but Birkar has helped reveal that many can be neatly categorized into a small number of families. In two papers published in 2016 he showed that an infinite number of different polynomials can be defined by a finite number of characteristics — a result which demonstrated that this bewildering array of seemingly unrelated algebraic equations shares something in common." [What Is Topology?]

This is one of the Fields Medals awarded in 2018, held by its winner, Birkar's co-honoree Alessio Figalli (who, as far as we know, still has his award).
This is one of the Fields Medals awarded in 2018, held by its winner, Birkar's co-honoree Alessio Figalli (who, as far as we know, still has his award).
Credit: Silvia Izquierdo/AP/Shutterstock

Birkar, a Kurdish refugee from Iran, is the second person born in Iran to win a Fields Medal in this decade. Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford mathematician from Iran, became the first (woman and remains the only one ) to win a Fields Medal in 2014. She died in 2017 at the age of 40.

Originally published on Live Science.