Akshay Venkatesh, an Indian-born Australian mathematician, was one of the four winners of the prestigious Fields medal, also known as the Nobel prize for math. The Fields medals are awarded every four years to the most promising mathematicians under the age of 40.
The New Delhi-born mathematician was recognised for his use of dynamics theory, which studies the equations of moving objects to solve problems in number theory, which is the study of whole numbers, integers and prime numbers, according to The Guardian.
When Venkatesh was two-years-old, his parents moved to Perth. From his teenage years, Venkatesh had to deal with being called a ‘prodigy’ and ‘genius’, before going on to become one of the most renowned researchers in the field of mathematics.
Venkatesh became the youngest student to be accepted into the University of Western Australia when he was just 13-years-old. He graduated with first-class honours in pure mathematics at 16 – again the youngest to do so – before studying at Princeton.
In 2002, he earned his PhD at the age of 20. Since then, he has gone from holding a post-doctoral position at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to becoming a Clay Research Fellow and, now is a professor at Stanford University. The 36-year-old has two children.
Venkatesh has worked at the highest level in number theory, arithmetic geometry, topology, automorphic forms and ergodic theory. His research has been recognised with several awards, including the Ostrowski Prize, the Infosys Prize, the Salem Prize and Sastra Ramanujan Prize. In 2016, at one of the award ceremonies, Venkatesh said doing mathematics gave him a feeling of “transcendence”, according to The Guardian.
“You have this sensation of transcendence, you feel like you’ve been part of something really meaningful,” he had said.
Svetha Venkatesh, his mother, is a computing science professor, who is director of the Centre for Pattern Recognition and Data Analytics at Deakin University. Perhaps Venkatesh’s talent is best described by retired University of Western Australia Maths professor Cheryl Praeger, who also mentored him when he went to the university aged 12.
“At our first meeting, I was speaking with Akshay’s mother Svetha, while Akshay was sitting at a table in my office reading my blackboard which contained fragments from a supervision of one of my PhD students,” The Australian quoted Praeger as saying. “At Akshay’s request, I explained what the problem was. He coped with quite a lot of detail and I found that he could easily grasp the essence of the research,” he said.
Venkatesh is only the second Australian to win the Fields Medal. Flinders University graduate Terry Tao won the award in 2006.