Masters of the Universe

Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

ScreenHunter_04 Aug. 28 07.12 A young man of striking looks, his long brown hair framing his face, his suit offset by an oversized wine-red cravat and a trademark spider brooch the size of a palm, is being followed around a vast hall by a film crew. He is one of the four men about to be honoured by an award that is among the rarest accomplishments in any field of intellectual endeavour—the Fields Medal.

The award’s monetary prize is insignificant—about $15,000—but the prestige it offers is incalculable. The actual medal, made of 14 carat gold, is 9 cm in diameter and bears the head of Archimedes in profile with an inscription in Latin from a passage by Manilius, a first-century Roman poet: Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri (‘To pass beyond your understanding and make yourself master of the universe’). The inscription on the obverse side translates to: ‘The mathematicians assembled here from all over the world pay tribute to outstanding work.’

Given once every four years for outstanding mathematical work completed before the age of 40, in the 70 or so years since the Fields Medal has been instituted, just 52 have been awarded—four of them this year at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) underway in Hyderabad, the first time in over a century of its existence that the conference is being held in India.

Three thousand assembled mathematicians rise in tribute as President Pratibha Patil awards the medal to the chosen four: Elon Lindenstrauss from Israel, Stanislav Smirnov from Russia, Ngo Bao Chau from Vietnam (originally, though now a naturalised citizen of France), and Cedric Villani from France (the man in the cravat).

More here.