Acclaimed mathematician Dr. Vladimir Voevodsky, passed away on September 30 at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, from unknown causes. He was 51.
Dr. Voevodsky was awarded the Fields Medal, commonly considered the ‘Nobel Prize of Mathematics’, in 2002 for developing new theories in topology – the science of shapes. The Fields Medal is awarded once every four years by the International Mathematical Union to mathematicians under the age of 40.
An obituary published in The New York Times mentions that Dr. Voevodsky’s work led to a “mathematical object whose existence had been predicted decades earlier. The object provides a sort of mathematical wormhole that allows powerful theoretical tools in one field of mathematics to be pulled through and used in another”. Based on these insights, Dr. Voevodsky proceeded to develop a whole new area of mathematics called motivic homotopy theory.
Read more: Obituary of a Mathematician
His work as a pure mathematician was so abstract that he once complained in an interview that he had difficulty explaining it even to final-year students in university.
Dr. Voevodsky’s other major contribution to mathematics was motivated by his quest for accuracy of mathematical proofs. He maintained that mathematical proofs had become so complex that they could rarely be checked for mistakes and sometimes critical errors were discovered after many years. To fix this, he made a computer tool that would improve the process by which mathematical proofs were developed and also check them for accuracy. His groundbreaking ‘proof assistants’ have been of immense benefit to pure mathematicians.
Dr. Voevodsky was born on June 4, 1966, in Moscow to parents who were both scientists. He was not too fond of conventional learning methods and was thrown out of high school thrice. Later he got expelled from the Moscow State University because he stopped attending classes due to boredom. He continued studying mathematics and collaborated on academic papers with mathematician Mikhail Kapranov. Despite not having an undergraduate degree or ever applying to Harvard University, he was invited to enroll there as a graduate student.
He stopped attending classes at Harvard too, and decided to move back to Russia. However, his research was so impressive that the university kept his fellowship spot open and he eventually came back and got his doctorate in 1992. In 2002, he became a faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he spent the rest of his professional career.
Dr. Voevodsky is survived by his former wife, Dr. Nadia Shalaby, and their two daughters.