A controversial proof of a 102-year-old mathematical puzzler has taken the top spot on the journal Science’s annual list of scientific breakthroughs. Other entries on the top 10 list ranged from the deciphering of Neanderthal DNA to studies of the world’s shrinking ice sheets. But it was Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman’s proof of the Poincare Conjecture, literally one of the field’s million-dollar challenges, that most impressed America’s premier peer-reviewed science publication. For mathematicians, Perelman’s achievement would qualify “at least as the Breakthrough of the Decade,” Science’s editors said.
Science’s editor-in-chief, Donald Kennedy, admitted that mathematical papers don’t often get the star treatment, “partly because higher mathematics is a subject that’s technically difficult to explain.” However, the Russian mathematician’s work on the Poincare Conjecture stands out for several reasons. First of all, Kennedy noted that the conjecture has “defeated many brilliant minds” since it was first proposed in 1904 by Henri Poincare, who is generally regarded as the founder of topology.