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9 Outstanding Math Prodigies
By Grace Murano,
Oddee, 25 July 2016.

From the Chinese delivery man who solved a complex math riddle to the teen who came up with a solution for a 350-year-old problem posed by Isaac Newton, take a look at these real-life Will Huntings.

1. The Chinese delivery man who discovered a simpler solution to a complex math problem


Yu Jianchun, a Chinese migrant worker from the Henan province, has no mathematical training and no college degree but is being hailed as a real-life version of Will Hunting, the character played by Matt Damon in the 1997 Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting, after finding an alternative method to verify Carmichael numbers.

Carmichael numbers, also known as “pseudoprimes," are large numbers that only appear to be prime numbers, which are only divisible by one and themselves. They are used for credit card encryption and online payments, among other things. Some examinations can be done to find out which numbers are prime and which are Carmichael numbers, but it's tricky work. Apparently, Yu has come up with a simpler way to verify Carmichael numbers.

The 33-year-old says he worked on a solution for the last eight years, relying solely on his intuition and his innate sensitivity to numbers - and he did it all in his free time because he had a full-time job working as a delivery man for a logistics company.

After verifying his solution to the Carmichael numbers, Yu apparently wrote several universities about it, but they wouldn't give him the time of day, he was just a delivery man with no formal studies in mathematics, after all. But he recently got the chance to make his case at Zhejiang University, along with solutions to four other complex math problems. His way of verifying Carmichael numbers stunned those in attendance, including Professor Cai Tianxin, who later told reporters that Yu's proof was much more efficient than traditional solutions.

2. The Nigerian professor who solved a 156-year-old mathematics problem


A Nigerian professor has reportedly solved a math problem which has eluded scholars for 156 years. Dr. Opeyemi Enoch, who teaches at the Federal University in the city of Oye Ekiti, might receive a US$1 million (£657,000) prize if his formula is correct.

Before you go thinking that this is a quick way to get rich, you should understand what exactly Enoch has (possibly) done. He believes he has found a solution to the Riemann Hypothesis - a mathematical problem first proposed by German mathematician Bernhard Riemann in 1859. It makes up one of the seven "millennium problems," which are a set of questions proposed by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000.

3. The woman who solved a mathematical problem that was open for seven decades


Neena Gupta is another genius who has pulled off a remarkable feat. In 2014, she became a recipient of the prestigious Indian National Science Academy (INSA) Medal for Young Scientists for solving a math problem, which astonishingly enough, remained open for almost 70 years!

The problem that no one but Neena could solve is called the Zariski Cancellation Conjecture. INSA described her solution as “one of the best works in algebraic geometry in recent years done anywhere.”

In addition to the INSA award, she was also awarded the Ramanujan Prize (2014), and the Saraswathi Cowsik Medal (2013) by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Alumni Association.

4. The math genius who solved a 100-year-old problem and refused a million dollar prize


The Poincare conjecture was a seemingly unsolvable theorem that was first proposed in 1904. But Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman published two proofs of the theorem back in 2002 and 2003, and according to The Utopianist, it wasn't until last year that a team of advanced mathematicians at the Clay Mathematical Institute (CMI) finally proved his results valid.

His reward? One million dollars and the Fields Medal, or the math world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. But the private Perelman shrugged off the invite to accept the cash, saying that the knowledge he gained from proving the conjecture was more valuable than any monetary gain.

5. The woman who solved 'The Monty Hall Problem' and caused public hysteria


It was a simple brainteaser, but its solution made everyone go crazy. And when Marilyn vos Savant - a woman known for having the highest IQ recorded in the Guinness Book of Records - solved it, some people weren't satisfied.

We're talking about "The Monty Hall Problem," made famous by the game show Let's Make a Deal, hosted by Monty Hall. Here's how it works: There are three doors. Behind one door is a car, and behind the other two, are goats. The player chooses a door, and then before being told what's behind it, Hall opens one of the doors to reveal a goat, leaving the door the player chose, and a door they haven't seen yet. Should the player switch their choice to increase chances of finding the car?

When a reader submitted that question to Savant's newspaper column Ask Marilyn, she replied: "Yes, you should switch." But her answer caused a firestorm. She received thousands of letters claiming she was wrong, Some of the mail was even laced with sexist comments like "There is such a thing as female logic." All of this was shocking to Savant, mostly because the problem had actually been solved many times before - as far back as 1889, by French mathematician Joseph Bertrand. Regardless, Savant ended up convincing many of her readers that she was right.

Watch the above video explaining everything.

6. The "human computer" who solved complicated cube roots by the age of 5


A human calculator that solved the most complex math problems with incredible ease, Shakuntala Devi was an Indian gem. But more than anything else, I see her as a genius of a woman who counters the absurd, yet popular, notion that says women are mathematically challenged.

Born in Bangalore on November 4, 1929, she was just 5, when, unlike other kids who were still trying to get a hang of counting, she traveled with her dad and solved complex cube roots in performances which fetched money for the family.

Devi grew up to become not just a math wizard who traveled the world giving it glimpses of the extraordinary, but a woman known as the world's “human computer“ who has her remarkable feats recorded in the 1982 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of her many arithmetic talents that left the world astonished:
  • She added four complex numbers and multiplied the result by 9,878 in 20 seconds.
  • She extracted the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds
  • She solved the record-worthy multiplication problem of 13-digit numbers: 7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779, in 28 seconds
One problem randomly put before her by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London in 1980 had the gigantic answer of 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730, which she took just 28 seconds to come up with and earned her a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.

7. The British man who won US$720,000 for solving a 300-year-old math problem


In 1993, Andrew Wiles delivered the findings of his obsessive seven-year study on “Fermat's Last Theorem” to 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 20-odd years after his feat, he was awarded the highly prestigious Abel Prize by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo. The award is often referred to as the mathematician's Nobel Prize, and also comes with 6 million Norwegian kroner (US$720,000) in prize money.

Pierre de Fermat proposed Fermat's Last Theorem 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 above video.

8. The Indian boy who solved a 350-year-old math problem proposed by Newton


In 2012, a 16-year-old Indian schoolboy living in Germany managed to crack puzzles that baffled the world of math for more than 350 years. Shouryya Ray, from Dresden, was hailed a genius after working out the problems posed by Sir Isaac Newton.

Ray solved two fundamental particle dynamics theories which physicists have previously been able to calculate only by using powerful computers. His solutions mean that scientists can now calculate the flight path of a thrown ball and then predict how it will hit and bounce off a wall.

Ray came across the problems during a school trip to Dresden University. Professors claimed they were uncrackable, but Ray decided to take a shot. "I just asked myself, 'Why not?'"

9. The Nigerian student who solved a historically difficult math equation in his first semester at university


A Nigerian student achieved the highest grades at a university in Japan in 50 years and solved a math puzzle in his first semester that was unsolvable 30 years ago.

Ufot Ekong, who studied at Tokai University in Tokyo, achieved a first class degree in electrical engineering and scored the best marks at the university since 1965. Throughout his college career, Ekong won six awards for academic excellence. The mathematician also worked two jobs during school to pay his way as a student.

Top image: Shakuntala Devi, the “human computer.” Credit: Yuva Desh/Twitter

[Source: Oddee. Edited. Top image added.]