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The Maths Problem Whose Answer Will Earn You ₦143 million

It was in 1637 when French mathematician, Pierre de Fermat scribbled an elegant equation which said that:

For any three whole numbers, a , b  and c , the equation an + bn = cn  cannot be satisfied by any whole number greater than 2.

Although he claimed to have discovered a proof for this puzzle which appears rather simple, he did not provide one. With Fermat’s death in 1665, the equation — now known as Fermat’s Last Theorem— became the most difficult mathematical problem ever conceived.

And so it remained for over 350 years.

Well, until 1994 when Andrew Wiles — a British number theorist who became captivated by the problem as a schoolboy — cracked the theorem, using, in the process, new tools that have since allowed researchers to make significant advances in the field of Mathematics.

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andrew wiles
Andrew Wiles

Last Tuesday, Wiles, who is now 62 and a professor at the University of Oxford, U.K., was finally recognized for solving what has been the most famous, and long-running, unsolved problem in the subject’s history.

He was named the winner of the Abel Prize — widely regarded as the Nobel for Mathematics – by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters at a Mathematics conference in Oslo, along with a prize money of £500,000 (over 143 million).

Speaking about how he came to be captivated by the problem after he saw it during a visit to the local library, he said:

It was the most famous popular problem in mathematics, although I didn’t know that at the time.

What amazed me was that there were some unsolved problems that someone who was 10 years old could understand and even try. And I tried it throughout my teenage years. When I first went to college I thought I had a proof, but it turned out to be wrong.

I knew from that moment that I would never let it go. I had to solve it.

Since his remarkable achievement in 1995, scores of mathematicians have used it as an inspiration to develop new theorems. The proof has further provided mathematicians with new tools to tackle problems involving elliptic curves, modular forms and Galois representation, among other things.


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