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British Iranian Kurd one of four Fields math medal winners

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Caucher Birkar, a Cambridge University professor of Iranian Kurdish origin, on Wednesday was named one of four winners of the prestigious Fields medal, often known as the Nobel prize for mathematics.

The laureates were announced at a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, which became the first Latin American city ever to host the event, staged once every four years.

"I'm hoping that this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people," Birkar, a 40-year-old specialist in algebraic geometry, said, referring to the Kurds.

Born in the Kurdish province of Marivan near the Iran-Iraq border, Birkar graduated from Tehran University before getting British citizenship and building on his reputation as an exceptional mathematical mind, winning the 2010 Philip Leverhulme prize for most promising scholars.

The other Fields winners were:

-- Germany's Peter Scholze, who teaches at the University of Bonn and at just 30 is one of the world's most influential thinkers in arithmetic algebraic geometry.

-- Alessio Figalli, a 34-year-old Italian mathematician at ETH Zurich who jokes that the one equation still baffling him is how to spend more time with his professor wife.

"I have work for the next 30 or 40 years. But there is one problem I really hope to solve soon: that is me and my wife living in the same city," Figalli said.

-- Akshay Venkatesh, an Indian-born, Australian-raised prodigy who began his undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics at the University of Western Australia when he was just 13.

Now 36 and at Stanford University in the United States, Venkatesh specializes in number theory and describes his work in terms more often associated with the artistic fields.

"A lot of the time, when you do math, you're stuck. But you feel privileged to work with it: you have a feeling of transcendence and feel like you've been part of something really meaningful," Venkatesh said.

The Fields medal recognizes the outstanding mathematical achievements of candidates who were under 40 years old at the start of the year. At least two and preferably four people are honored at each ceremony.

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