Conversation Education

In a league of his own

Akshay Venkatesh

Akshay Venkatesh   | Photo Credit: Mail

Winner of the Infosys Prize 2016 and one of the youngest Ph.D holders in the world, Akshay Venkatesh talks about the Queen of mathematics — number theory.

Professor Akshay Venkatesh was born in Delhi and brought up in Perth. He was 12 when he won medals in International Olympiads in mathematics and physics. He entered the University of Western Australia at 13 and graduated with honours at 16 as the best graduating student. At 17, he started his doctoral work and received his Ph.D. at 21. He is currently teaching at Stanford. Excerpts from an interview.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a mathematician?

I have been interested in mathematics for as long as I can remember. There are plenty of subjects that use a lot of maths. In university,

I enrolled in a course that included physics and electrical engineering. I decided that I wanted to be a professional mathematician towards the end of my undergraduation.

How did you feel being one of the youngest Ph.D holders in the world?

I wasn’t sure while going into my Ph.D. that I would be able to find a job as a mathematician. One thing that I liked about doing it at a young age is that I felt I had time to give it a go and then do something else if it didn’t work out. As it turned out, things worked out for me which was comforting.

Your interest area — Number theory — is called the “Queen of Mathematics”. Please elaborate on your research.

A typical question is whether one can solve such-and-such an equation, with all the unknowns being whole numbers. These questions are easy to state and often impossible to solve.

The most interesting ones are connected to many other parts of mathematics, and that’s what makes them fun — you end up using geometry, calculus, and symmetry — everything in the book.

How do you make maths interesting to students?

A lot of mathematics is taught after being stripped out of its original context. Many mathematical ideas were motivated by problems or ideas that arose in other sciences. I have always found that learning about this broader context makes the maths much more appealing and relevant.

Having received various awards and fellowships, how do you feel being the recipient of Infosys Prize 2016?

It is a pleasure to be recognised by the Infosys Science Foundation. I am familiar with the work of several previous winners of Infosys Prize and it is an honour to join the league.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 9:08:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/In-a-league-of-his-own/article17108474.ece

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