UM Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Receives $3 Million Inaugural Breakthrough Prize

Professor Maxim Kontsevich of the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences Among Five Mathematicians Recognized for Contributions to the Field

Maxim Kontsevich, distinguished professor in the Department of Mathematics in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences, is one of five recipients of the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.

The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics – which was launched in 2014 by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and venture capitalist Yuri Milner – aims to honor “the world’s best mathematicians,” recognize advances in the field and promote excitement about math among the general public.

Kontsevich will receive a $3-million cash award and a special trophy at a ceremony in November.

Kontsevich splits his time between Coral Gables and the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHES), a French institute supporting advanced research in math and theoretical physics located just south of Paris.

According to a statement from The Breakthrough Prize Foundation, Kontsevich was recognized “for work making a deep impact in a vast variety of mathematical disciplines, including algebraic geometry, deformation theory, symplectic topology, homological algebra and dynamical systems.”

A citizen of both France and his birth country Russia, Kontsevich earned his Ph.D. from the University of Bonn (Germany) in 1992. His work focuses on the intersection of math and physics, particularly “knot theory.”

“I became interested in mathematics at age 10-11, mainly because of the influence of my brother,” Kontsevich wrote in an online autobiography.  During his teenage years, he studied mathematics at Moscow State University, passing directly to graduate-level courses and research seminars.

After conducting research at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn, and Princeton and Harvard Universities, he joined the IHES in 1995.

“The interaction during the last two decades between mathematics and theoretical physics has been an amazing chain of breakthroughs. I am very happy to be a participant in this dialogue, not only absorbing mathematical ideas from string theory, but also giving something back,” Kontsevich wrote.

Dean Leonidas Bachas of the UM College of Arts & Sciences said, “I am honored to have a mathematician of Professor Kontsevich's caliber in our College.  He is a stellar researcher whose work is making a difference in STEM education and foundational research.”

Last year, Kontsevich won the Breakthrough Prize in Applied Physics. He took home the 2012 Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences, an international award that honors significant advances in math; it carries a monetary award of $1 million. Throughout his career, he has won numerous other prizes, including the Henri Poincaré Prize (1997), the Fields Medal (1998) and the Crafoord Prize (2008).

Facebook founder Zuckerberg said, “Mathematics is essential for driving human progress and innovation in this century. This year’s Breakthrough Prize winners have made huge contributions to the field and we’re excited to celebrate their efforts.”

All 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics recipients will serve on the selection committee for future recipients; beginning in 2015, just one winner per year will be named.

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation also awards annual prizes in Life Sciences, and Fundamental Physics. Milner said his goal is to “emphasize the importance of fundamental science in our world today,” and make careers in science as “cool and lucrative” as those in business, sports and entertainment.

June 30, 2014