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Saudi group grants prize of $200,000 to Wiles for proof of Fermat's Last Theorem

Mathematics Professor Andrew Wiles has grabbed the spotlight once again – this time for winning a 1998 King Faisal International Prize, a Saudi Arabian award that recognizes achievements in science and literature.

Wiles leapt to international fame four years ago when he announced that he had proved Fermat's Last Theorem, long considered one of the world's great unsolved mathematical mysteries.


Recognition for the 44-year-old professor has not been in short supply. Most recently, PBS aired a documentary that examined how Wiles' childhood fascination with the famous theorem led him to spend nine years working out a proof whose discovery had eluded mathematicians for 350 years.

Last June, he received a "genius grant" from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Six months earlier, he was presented with the American Mathematical Society's Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Number Theory.

The latest honor comes from the Saudi Arabian-based King Faisal Foundation, which hands out awards annually in five categories – science, medicine, service to Islam, Islamic studies and Arabic literature. Each prize carries a cash award of $200,000.

Annette Larkin, the United States representative for the foundation, said Saudi Arabian ruler King Fahd – or another high-ranking official of that country's government – will present the awards in March at a ceremonial dinner in Riyadh.

Wiles was unavailable for comment yesterday. He told the Associated Press earlier this week that his prize money would go towards the education of his three daughters, ages seven, six and three.

His secretary declined to confirm whether he would attend the ceremony in Riyadh.


Fermat's Last Theorem states that for any whole number nlarger than two and any whole numbers x, y and z there is no solution for the equation xn + yn = zn. The problem was posed in the seventeenth century by French mathematician Pierre de Fermat, who wrote in a book margin that he had found a proof but did not have room in the margin to spell it out.

In addition to the Saudi Arabian award, the MacArthur grant and the Cole Prize, Wiles has received the Common Wealth Award, the Wolf Prize, the Fermat Prize, the Ostrowski Prize and the National Academy of Sciences Prize in Mathematics since proving the theorem in 1994.

Recipients of the King Faisal Prize are selected through a lengthy nomination and assessment process that Larkin described as "very discreet." This year, other winners include a professor at Georgetown and a researcher at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Past recipients of the award include the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the President of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Stanford Professor Steven Chu, who won a Nobel Prize in physics last year.

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