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He Won Math's Most Coveted Prize. 30 Minutes Later, It Was Gone

Rio thief made off with professor's Fields medal
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2018 2:02 AM CDT
Updated Aug 2, 2018 6:33 AM CDT
Italy's Alessio Figalli shows his medal during a press conference during the 2018 International Congress of Mathematicians in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018.   (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

(Newser) – Algebraic geometry, particularly problems involving singularities and linear systems, is Caucher Birkar's specialty. Hanging on to medals apparently isn't. The renowned Cambridge professor had his Fields medal—known as the Nobel Prize of mathematics—stolen within 30 minutes of receiving it at the International Congress of Mathematics in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, the Guardian reports. It had been left on a briefcase on top of a table, along with Birkar's cellphone and wallet. The briefcase was later recovered, minus the medal. Organizers say security footage has been reviewed and they are working with authorities to get the 14-karat gold medal back, the AP reports.

The organizing committee says it "profoundly regrets" the disappearance of the briefcase. The theft was a major embarrassment for organizers of the event, which is being held in Latin America for the first time, CBS reports. Birkar was one of four men to win the award, which is awarded every four years to mathematicians under 40. The mathematician, who was born in a Kurdish region of Iran and moved to Britain as a refugee 20 years ago, said his achievement was a win for the Kurds and hopes "this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people." (In 2014, a woman won the prize for the first time.)

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