Pattern Master Wins Million-Dollar Mathematics Prize
Imagine I present you with a line of cards labelled 1 through to n, where n is some incredibly large number. I ask you to remove a certain number of cards - which ones you choose is up to you, inevitably leaving ugly random gaps in my carefully ordered sequence. It might seem as if all order must now be lost, but in fact no matter which cards you pick, I can always identify a surprisingly ordered pattern in the numbers that remain.
As a magic trick it might not equal sawing a woman in half, but mathematically proving that it is always possible to find a pattern in such a scenario is one of the feats that today garnered Endre Szemerédi mathematics’ prestigious Abel prize.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo awarded Szemerédi the one million dollar prize today for “fundamental contributions to discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science”. His specialty was combinatorics, a field that deals with the different ways of counting and rearranging discrete objects, whether they be numbers or playing cards.
The trick described above is a direct result of what is known as Szemerédi’s theorem, a piece of mathematics that answered a question first posed by the mathematicians Paul Erdős and Pál Turán in 1936 and that had remained unsolved for nearly 40 years.