Prof. Alex Eskin, a University of Chicago mathematician who co-proved a “magic wand theorem” that had far-reaching consequences in the field, has been awarded one of the $3 million Breakthrough Prizes.
Two other projects involving UChicago faculty were honored this year. The Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, of which the University of Chicago is a partner, was honored for creating the first image of a black hole earlier this year. That prize will be shared equally among the 347 co-authors, including UChicago scientists John Carlstrom, Tom Crawford, Brad Benson and Steve Padin. Michael Levin, an associate professor of physics studying quantum condensed matter physics, was also awarded the New Horizons Prize along with three other physicists for “incisive contributions to the understanding of topological states of matter and the relationships between them.”
The prizes, sometimes called the “Oscars of science,” were announced Sept. 5 by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, which was founded by a group of tech entrepreneurs including Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki.
“I’m kind of stunned,” said Eskin, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor at UChicago, who worked for five years with the late Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani on a “magic wand theorem.”
“One of the things about proving a theorem is that it’s like climbing a mountain no one has climbed before—at any given point you have no idea it’s going to work, but you have to believe it will. It’s been a journey, and this is quite a surprise,” he said.