Natural Sciences

It All Adds Up

Solving a math problem that stood for decades

EliasBen“Mathematicians are like abstract artists,” Ben Elias said with a chuckle recently, as he sipped tea in a campus café. “No one understands us.”

One group understands the new UO professor quite well, however. The Breakthrough Foundation, founded by Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley executives, just awarded Elias a 2017 New Horizons in Mathematics prize for his work in a field called “representation theory.”

Six prizes, each $100,000, went to early-career researchers. Elias and colleague Geordie Williamson of Kyoto University were selected for solving a mathematical conundrum that had stood for 35 years.

The New Horizons prize is a companion to the $3 million Breakthrough prize, the largest awarded in science and math and the impetus for a ritzy, black-tie ceremony each year that draws stars such as Morgan Freeman and coverage by The New York Times.