Mathematics’ Biggest Prize

Three top University of California at San Diego scientists were awarded the world’s richest science prize, established five years ago by a team including the founders of Google and Facebook.

Out of the seven $3 million Breakthrough Prize awards for 2018, San Diego scientists won two, with a third shared equally with a collaborator. The award is worth about twice the value of the Nobel Prize.

  • Plant scientist Joanne Chory of the Salk Institute won an award for her work in life sciences. And Biomedical researcher Don W. Cleveland of University of California San Diego also won in life sciences.
  • Mathematician Professor James McKernan FRS (and graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge) also of UCSD; shares the $3 million award in mathematics equally with collaborator Christopher Hacon of the University of Utah for ‘transformation contributions to birational algebraic geometry. McKernan and Hacon have used algebra to describe how to project objects with more than three dimensions onto a surface of one with fewer dimensions.

    McKernan likens this task to that of painters, who simulate three dimensions onto a two-dimensional surface.
    The field of algebraic geometry may eventually lead to a better understanding of string theory, McKernan said, although he personally isn’t working in the area. String theory postulates the existence of subatomic one-dimensional structures called strings. In string theory, there are extra dimensions beyond the observable three, but are so small they can’t be observed.

Mathematician James McKernan (copyright UC San Diego)

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