5 Facts About Artur Avila, the First Brazilian to Win Math's Top Prize

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Twitter: @AndreaGompf

Brazil is the world’s seventh-largest economy, a place renowned for its amazing music, delicious food and the five World Cup titles it has under its belt. But the nation has lagged behind when it comes to elite intellectual accolades, with zero Nobel Prizes to date. Which is why we’re excited to report that today Artur Avila made history by becoming the first Brazilian to get recognized with a Fields medal, an award many consider the equivalent of the Nobel in the mathematics field.

We’re mostly humanities people here at Remezcla, so I won’t pretend to understand Avila’s “profound contributions to dynamical systems theory” that “have changed the face of the field,” nor the “high geometric vision” that was so lauded by the prize selection committee. What I will say, is that there’s no doubt this award will be extremely important to Brazil, especially considering Avila was educated there, and still resides there six months out of the year (in defiance of the “brain drain” problem that has plagued many South American nations, whose top researchers often flock to the United States and Europe for opportunities).

While I may not not be able to explain the intricacies of his mathematical proofs, here are some interesting facts we learned about Avila:

1. He likes to ponder math problems while knee-deep in the ocean.

Collaborator Amie Wilkinson, a mathematician at the University of Chicago, is quoted as saying “If you work with Artur,” she said, “you have to get into a bathing suit.”

2. He looks good in a bathing suit.

Articles about Avila tend to reference his attractiveness — like a recent feature which highlighted his “snug black T-shirt revealing the approximate physique of a sturdy World Cup midfielder.”

That black tee though.

3. His father grew up in the rural Amazon and didn’t begin his education until his teenage years.

Nonetheless, he was able to become an accountant in a government reinsurance enterprise, where he earned enough to give Avila a middle-class upbringing in Rio (one with plenty of math books, since Avila showed no interest in soccer).

4. He’s a Wunderkind.

Avila has made important contributions to his field since he was 19 (and got his Ph.D. at just 21 years old).

5. He’s gotten fired from most of his jobs.

According to Avila, he sleeps well past noon and is “not good at managing time.” Samesies. This gives me hope that I, too, may one day win my field’s highest honor.