Math Prizes

I'm bad at math. Or, at least, I'm slow at math. Well, maybe I'm not slow all the time so much as mechanical and lacking insight. Ok, to be precise, what I am is a fine example of the true mediocrity of the US public education system.So now I'm running to play catch up, and I'm liking it. Which is a too-long way of saying I find this very cool:

Why do the unsolved problems of maths matter?

To commemorate the occasion and provide a suitable launch for mathematics into a new century and a new millennium, one hundred years later, the newly-formed Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI) of Cambridge, MA, devised its own list of old nuts that have yet to be cracked and formally announced it at the Collège de France in Paris on 24 May 2000 in a lecture entitled “The Importance of Mathematics”. While to some the latter might sound like an obvious oxymoron, there are some circumstances surrounding this list of problems which indicate that this is not just mathematics for mathematics’ sake.

For one, the founder and sponsor of the CMI is not himself a mathematician, nor did he read maths at university. Landon T Clay is a Boston businessman who believes maths research is underfunded and would like to see a wider dissemination of mathematical knowledge. Then, there is also the attractive price tag of $1,000,000 attached to each of the seven problems to be won by the first person to demonstrate a correct solution. So if you thought maths couldn’t make you rich and famous, think again!

The list of problems itself has been carefully selected to include not only the most difficult ones, but also the ones whose solutions would have a relevance to areas of mathe-matics and the other sciences beyond the one in which the problem was originally for-mulated, hopefully leading to further serendipitous discoveries en route. Thus, far from being formal exercises, the seven prize problems are widely considered the most important problems in mathematics.

These sort of pull-prizes seem to work well. I've always thought it would be a more interesting way to go about science funding for not only NASA, but medical research and more. I'd always appreciate a little competition behind the ways my tax dollars get parceled out.

Link via Political Theory Daily Review.


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This page contains a single entry by published on December 7, 2004 5:30 PM.

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