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The solution to a 300-year-old mystery has landed Oxford University Professor Sir Andrew Wiles the top international prize for mathematics.

Professor Sir Andrew Wiles of Oxford University has been awarded the 2016 Abel Prize for mathematics for his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.
Professor Sir Andrew Wiles of Oxford University has been awarded the 2016 Abel Prize for mathematics for his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.

Sir Andrew has been awarded the 2016 Abel Prize, regarded as mathematics' equivalent of the Nobel Prize, 'for his stunning proof of Fermat's Last Theorem by way of the modularity conjecture for semistable elliptic curves, opening a new era in number theory'.

Sir Andrew, Royal Society Research Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, will receive the Prize from Crown Prince Haakon of Norway at a ceremony in Oslo in May.

Learning of the award today, Sir Andrew said: 'It is a tremendous honour to receive the Abel Prize and to join the previous Laureates who have made such outstanding contributions to the field. Fermat's equation was my passion from an early age, and solving it gave me an overwhelming sense of fulfilment. It has always been my hope that my solution of this age-old problem would inspire many young people to take up mathematics and to work on the many challenges of this beautiful and fascinating subject.'

Fermat's Last Theorem had been widely regarded by many mathematicians as seemingly intractable. First formulated by the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat in 1637, it states:

There are no whole number solutions to the equation xn + yn = zn when n is greater than 2.

Fermat himself claimed to have found a proof for the theorem but said that the margin of the text he was making notes on was not wide enough to contain it. Sir Andrew first became fascinated with the problem as a boy. After seven years of intense study in private at Princeton University, he announced he had found a proof in 1993, combining three complex mathematical fields – modular forms, elliptic curves and Galois representations.

Sir Andrew not only solved the long-standing puzzle of the Theorem, but in doing so he created entirely new directions in mathematics, which have proved invaluable to other scientists in the years since his discovery. The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, which presents the Abel Prize, said in its citation: 'Few results have as rich a mathematical history and as dramatic a proof as Fermat's Last Theorem.'

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Louise Richardson, said of the award: 'The work of Oxford mathematicians lays the foundation of remarkable science – helping to address fundamental questions and enabling stunning innovation. At the same time, our mathematicians rightly remind us that they "seek truth, beauty and elegance in mathematics itself". Very few have done so with the creativity, tenacity and sheer brilliance of Sir Andrew. The recognition he has received today is a source of immense pride to our University and we send him our warmest congratulations.'

Professor Martin Bridson, Head of Oxford's Mathematical Institute, which is based in the Andrew Wiles Building, said: 'I got to know Andrew in Princeton in the early 1990s and witnessed first-hand his struggle to tame his proof in the year 1993-94. The way in which he prevailed under such extraordinary pressure is the most compelling thing I have seen in my professional life. It was a joy to see how the appreciation of his triumph spread so widely beyond mathematics, to the enormous benefit of our subject, and it is a further joy to see it recognised with the award of the Abel Prize today.'

Professor Bridson added: 'We are immensely proud to have Andrew as a colleague at the Mathematical Institute in Oxford; he is the living embodiment of the excellence that is at the core of our identity. Andrew continues to inspire current and future generations of mathematicians through his public lectures in Oxford, and the excitement he generates among school children and students is extraordinary to behold.'

Sir Andrew is still an active member of the research community at Oxford, where he is a member of the number theory research group. In his current research he is developing new ideas in the context of the Langland’s Program, a set of far-reaching conjectures connecting number theory to algebraic geometry and the theory of automorphic forms. His longer term focus is on the Birch/Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture.

The Abel Prize is named after the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802-29). Abel himself did some of the early work on the properties of elliptical functions. Previous winners of the Prize include Britain's Sir Michael Atiyah and the late US mathematician John Nash. It will be presented to Sir Andrew at the University of Oslo on May 24. The prize carries a cash award of 6 million NOK (about 500,000 GBP, 600,000 Euro or 700,000 USD).