August 2, 2018, by jicke

PhD alumnus awarded the world’s highest honour in mathematics

PhD alumnus, Caucher Birkar, who fled the brutal war between Iraq and Iran and came to the University of Nottingham to study for a PhD, has been awarded the highest honour in Mathematics.  

In his final year as an undergraduate at the University of Tehran, Caucher Birkar came to England where he sought political asylum. He was placed in Nottingham after his request for asylum was granted. 

 At a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, he was one of four winners of the prestigious Fields Medal, an honour presented every four years by the International Mathematical Union to the world’s most accomplished mathematicians. 

Caucher Birkar, who grew up in the Kurdish region of western Iran in a rural substance farming village, is now a Professor of Mathematics in the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, at the University of Cambridge. 

 In an interview with Quanta Magazine, Caucher spoke of the math club at Tehran University, where pictures of Fields medallists lined the walls. “I looked at them and said to myself, ‘Will I ever meet one of these people?’ At that time in Iran, I couldn’t even know that I’d be able to go to the West 

“To go from the point that I didn’t imagine meeting these people to the point where someday I hold a medal myself — I just couldn’t imagine that this would come true.” 

Caucher came to Nottingham in October 2001 and graduated in December 2004. His PhD – Non standard Alegebraic Geometry – Shokurov’s Log Flips – Boundedness of E-lc Complements – was funded by the EPSRC.

Early Talent

Caucher studied under the supervision of Ivan Fesenko, Professor of Pure Mathematics in the School of Mathematics.  Professor Felsenko said, “Caucher’s talent became apparent very early on as in his first three months here he solved a problem which I thought would take three years.” 

With the support of his Nottingham supervisor, Caucher also met with US geometers and started to collaborate with Professor Slava Shokurov from Johns Hopkins University.

Professor Fesenko continued, “Caucher is an incredibly hard-working researcher. He concentrates very deeply during his study, to the point where I gave him a key from a committee meetings room so that he could use a very quiet room for his work when no committee meetings were taking place. He is also a very kind and respectful person. He is really an ideal PhD student that every supervisor dreams of! Here in the School of Math Sciences, we are all very excited about this great award to our former PhD student.

All these years later I am still in touch with Caucher. Recently, together with him and Professor Kobi Kremnitzer from Oxford, we have initiated a new international collaboration, for 4 years, with top research centres in China and Japan.”

It has been reported that Caucher’s medal was stolen during the event, this is currently under investigation.

Everyone at the University hopes it is recovered and returned soon.

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