# Fermat's last theorem mathematician Andrew Wiles wins Abel prize

Alain Goriely/Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford By Jacob Aron His work was one of the most stunning results in modern mathematics – and now he’s won one of the biggest prizes in the field. Andrew Wiles of the University of Oxford, who in the 1990s cracked the long-standing mystery of Fermat’s last theorem, has been awarded the 2016 Abel prize. The Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters chose to award Wiles the prize, often called the Nobel of mathematics, “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”. The prize is worth 6 million Norwegian kroner (around $700,000). “It feels fantastic, a great surprise, and very exciting,” says Wiles. Fermat’s last theorem was a seemingly simple puzzle posed by the 17th-century mathematician Pierre de Fermat. He said that for any three whole numbers, a, b and c, the equation an + bn = cn could not be satisfied by any whole number n greater than 2. What’s more, he claimed to have a proof for the theorem, that could not be contained in the narrow margin of the textbook he happened to be scribbling in,. His idle musing set mathematicians on a centuries-long quest that seemingly came to an end in 1993, when Wiles published a lengthy proof that Fermat was correct, having worked on the problem in secret for seven years. His proof also opened up a grand vista in number theory, with new tools to tackle elliptic curves, modular forms, and Galois representations – modern mathematics that Fermat couldn’t possibly have known about. Unfortunately for Wiles, his proof seemed to have a few errors, but with the help of colleagues he was able to announce a new complete version in 1994, which was officially published in the journal Annals of Mathematics in 1995. The hunt for a proof was finally over. “Few results have as rich a mathematical history and as dramatic a proof as Fermat’s last theorem,” said the Abel prize committee in a statement. Wiles was an unlikely celebrity when his proof first hit the headlines, and it’s a role he has increasingly accepted. “In the years since then I have encountered so many people who told me they have entered mathematics because of the publicity surrounding that, and the idea that you could spend your life on these exciting problems, that I’ve realised how valuable it actually it is.” Since then, scores of mathematicians have been inspired by Wiles’s work and gone on to develop new theorems. “I think it has gone better than I could have hoped,” he says. “There are still lots and lots of challenges, but it has come to be an ever-expanding part of number theory.” More on these topics: