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Ngô Bảo Châu

Fields Medal

2010

Professor Ngo Bao Chau is a Vietnamese-French mathematician best known for proving the fundamental lemma for automorphic forms. He received the 2004 Fields Medal for this achievement, together with his collaborator, Gérard Laumon.

Before Prof Ngo's work, the proof for the fundamental lemma had eluded mathematicians for three decades. The proposition first appeared in 1979 as part of the Langland's program, which is a collection of conjectures connecting number theory and geometry. The fundamental lemma was needed to prove some cases of the principle of functoriality, a core conjecture of the Langlands program. In layman's terms, it has been described thus: if the Langlands program is a big machine, then functoriality is opening a screw on it, and the fundamental lemma is the screwdriver to do so.

Prof Ngo first encountered the fundamental lemma in the 1990s while working on his PhD, but felt that he was not equipped at the time to properly tackle it. He did eventually begin in the early 2000s but it was a difficult problem to crack. "I went into quite a despair. I had spent three years working on every possible angle," he recalled. Eventually, in 2007, a chance discussion with a fellow mathematician presented new techniques with which to solve the problem, and it was eventually published in 2009. 

This achievement immediately rose to prominence, having been selected by Time magazine as one of the Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of the year. In 2010, he received the Fields Medal and the year after, he was awarded a Knight of France's Legion of Honour.

Prof Ngo became a professor at Paris-Sud 11 University in 2005, and in the same year, he also received the title of professor in Vietnam, becoming the country's youngest-ever professor. In 2007, Chau worked at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, as well as the Hanoi Institute of Mathematics. In 2010 he joined the mathematics faculty at the University of Chicago, and since 2011 he has been Scientific Director of the Vietnam Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics (VIASM). In 2019, Prof Ngô became a professor at the prestigious Collège de France.