Fields Medal winner Caucher Birkar gets a new medal after original prize was stolen

Organisers of the event said that a fifth medal had been kept as a spare.

A Kurdish refugee whose top mathematics prize was stolen minutes after he received the honor this week in Rio de Janeiro will get a replacement medal on Saturday, organisers said.

Caucher Birkar, 40, received the gold Fields Medal, which is considered math's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, on Wednesday.

Less than an hour later, it emerged that his briefcase containing the award had vanished and when the case was found later at the Rio convention center hosting the event, the medal was missing.

But for Birkar — an Iranian Kurd who won political asylum and citizenship in Britain — minus one plus one equals gold again.

"On Saturday, he will receive an identical medal to the one that was stolen," said a spokesman for the International Congress of Mathematics, which organised the award ceremony.

Fields Medal winner Caucher Birkar gets a new medal after original prize was stolen

Caucher Birkar, Alessio Figalli, Peter Scholze and Akshay Venkatesh at the International Congress of Mathematicians on 1 August. AFP

The spokesman said that a fifth medal had been kept as a spare. All that remained to do was to have Birkar's name engraved.

Birkar celebrated his achievement — alongside co-winners Alessio Figalli, Peter Scholze and Akshay Venkatesh — as a fairy tale come true for the often beleaguered Kurds. "I'm hoping this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people," he said.

Born in a village in the ethnic Kurdish province of Marivan, near the Iran-Iraq border, Birkar said "Kurdistan was an unlikely place for a kid to develop an interest in mathematics."

Despite that, he went from Tehran University, where he recounts having looked up dreamily at portraits of past Fields winners, to get political asylum and citizenship in Britain — and establish himself as an exceptional mathematical mind.

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 each time.

Italy's Alessio Figalli, right, Germany's Peter Scholze, center, and Akshay Venkatesh pose for a photo during the 2018 International Congress of Mathematicians in Rio de Janeiro. AP

Italy's Alessio Figalli, right, Germany's Peter Scholze, center, and Akshay Venkatesh pose for a photo during the 2018 International Congress of Mathematicians in Rio de Janeiro. AP

Akshay Venkatesh, the fourth awardee, is an Indian-born and 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.

In 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani from Iran, became the award's first and so far only female winner for her research in theoretical mathematics. She died in 2017 after having battled breast cancer for a long time.

With inputs from the Agence France-Presse

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