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Department of Mathematics: Celebrating Mathematicians

Celebrating Mathematicians forms part of the department's work in Equality and Good Practice. The department aims to highlight prominent Mathematicians, both locally and around the world.

Professor Caucher Birkar

“You get ideas from someone, somewhere, and you create something new. You contribute something new and create more beautiful things.”  Caucher Birkar

 

Professor Caucher Birkar is a UK-based Iranian Kurdish mathematician, who won the Fields Medal for his contributions to algebraic geometry in 2018.  He is currently a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

Born in 1978, Caucher was one of six children, raised on a rural subsistence farm in a Kurdish region of western Iran, and attended school during the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq war. 

At school, Birkar started to notice mathematics. “I felt something. Nothing serious, it was just a little feeling that I’m good in mathematics,” he said. In his early years his main steward was his brother who introduced him to the basic concepts of Calculus. In high school he was left to learn Mathematics on his own, taking books out of the local library.  “I read all these books and I had the feeling that just reading things is not enough. I also wanted to create my own stuff, to create something new,” he said.

Following his passion for Mathematics, he began studies at the University of Tehran but in his final undergraduate year relocated to the UK as a refugee, seeking political asylum. 

Having been placed in Nottingham by the UK Government, Birkar enrolled at the University of Nottingham, meeting mathematician Vyacheslav Shokurov, who sparked his interest in a relatively neglected subfield of algebraic geometry, birational geometry. Whilst studying for his PhD, Birkar was awarded the Cecil King Travel Scholarship by the London Mathematical Society as the most promising PhD student.

More recently, Birkar’s work at Cambridge has included much of the modern development of ideas in the field, in particular his proof on the boundedness of Fano varieties published in 2016, for which he was given the Fields Medal in 2018. His citation for the prize also noted his pioneering work on minimal model theory. News of Birkar’s Fields Medal became global when it was unfortunately stolen, after the ceremony in Rio. Thankfully, the committee awarded him a replacement, in a brief, moving ceremony a few days later. 

Birkar said at the time, “This has been widely covered in the media, and now I am more famous than I would have been…. And the number of people who know what a Fields Medal is, is way more than it was last week."

On winning the medal he said  “To go from the point that I didn’t imagine meeting these people to the point where someday I hold a medal myself — I just couldn’t imagine that this would come true.”

During the course of his career Birkar has received numerous awards including the Philip Leverhulme Prize (2010), the American Mathematical Society Moore research article prize (2016), and the London Mathematical Society Whitehead prize (2018).

To find out more on on his achievements please see: An Innovator Who Brings Order to an Infinitude of Equations

References: Wikipedia, Quanta Magazine Royal Society, Varsity, John Hopkins, London Mathematical Society