Grigory Perelman has solved one of math’s most intractable problems, a century-old puzzle that carries a $1 million prize. There’s just one problem: Perelman doesn’t want the money, and he won’t say why. He won’t say anything, in fact. Ever since the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge validated his proof of the Poincaré's conjecture last week he’s been holed up in his Moscow apartment, where he lives with his mother and sister, refusing to talk to the reporters camped outside.
When one reporter finally reached him by cellphone, he said only, “You are disturbing me. I am picking mushrooms.” It’s not the first time Perelman’s snubbed the community; in 2006 he refused to collect the Fields Medal, math’s equivalent of the Oscars. Neighbors describe him as a scruffy loaner. “He has rather strange moral principles. He feels improper things very strongly,” says the director of a math institute Pereleman once worked. He says Perelman, currently unemployed, may feel his fellow mathematicians aren’t worthy to award him anything.