Michael Atiyah is an acclaimed mathematician who has won some of the top prizes in his field, and he now claims to have cracked a 159-year-old problem called the Riemann hypothesis. If he's right, Atiyah wins even more acclaim—plus a $1 million prize. But before the bubbly is cracked, the 89-year-old has to convince fellow mathematicians of his feat, and they sound very skeptical. The details:
- The announcement: In a speech in Germany Monday, the retired University of Edinburgh mathematician said he had found a "simple proof" of the problem. “Nobody believes any proof of the Riemann hypothesis because it is so difficult," he said, per Live Science. "Nobody has proved it, so why should anybody prove it now? Unless, of course, you have a totally new idea.” Atiyah says he does.
- The actual problem: The hypothesis, put forth by mathematician Bernhard Riemann in 1859, involves the distribution of prime numbers—hence its nickname of "the riddle of the primes." Riemann thought he figured out a pattern, and his formula works for the first 10 trillion solutions. Impressive, but that still means it's "unsolved," per the Clay Mathematics Institute, which gets into the mathematical nitty gritty. Anyone who can prove the hypothesis to infinity will collect a $1 million Millennium Prize award from the institute.