*by Tom Hale*

In 1993, a cardigan-clad Andrew Wiles delivered the findings
of his obsessive seven-year study on “Fermat's Last Theorem” to a lecture at
Cambridge University. When the British mathematician wrote his proof on the
blackboard at the end of his presentation, the 200 researchers attending the
lecture sat in stunned silence and suddenly erupted into overwhelming applause.

Wiles' work has since undergone changes – particularly after
an error was noted in 1994 – but essentially he managed to definitively prove
one of the world’s longstanding mathematical theories. Now, 20-odd years on,
Wiles has been awarded the highly prestigious Abel prize.

The prize was awarded to Sir Andrew J. Wiles, 62, on Tuesday
by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo. The prize is often
referred to as the mathematician's "Nobel Prize". Aside from the
pride and honor, the award also comes with 6 million Norwegian Krone ($720,000)
in prize money.

The mathematical theorem was proposed by Pierre de Fermat in
1637, which states “an + bn = cn. This equation has no solution in integers for
n≥3.” In other words, n can never be more than 2 for the equation to work. It
may seem simple enough, but definitive proof of the theory had alluded
mathematicians throughout the centuries. You can learn more about the problem
in the video below.

Since finding a book about the theorem when he was just 10
years old, the problem stuck in the mind of Wiles and became a lifelong
infatuation.

“This problem captivated me,” Wiles told The Guardian. “It
was the most famous popular problem in mathematics, although I didn’t know that
at the time. What amazed me was that there were some unsolved problems that
someone who was 10 years old could understand and even try. And I tried it
throughout my teenage years. When I first went to college I thought I had a
proof, but it turned out to be wrong,” he said.

While proving the theorem was certainly a weight off Wiles’
mind, the work has widely been described as a landmark in the development of
mathematics. Speaking about Wiles, the Abel Committee said: “Few results have
as rich a mathematical history and as dramatic a proof as Fermat’s Last
Theorem,” adding that his work alone opened up a whole new era of number
theory.

**Source: www.iflscience.com**