Mathematicians who have studied the most efficient way to pack spheres in eight-dimensional space and the spacing of prime numbers are among this year’s recipients of the highest award in mathematics, the Fields medal.

Mathematicians who have studied the most efficient way to pack spheres in eight-dimensional space and the spacing of prime numbers are among this year’s recipients of the highest award in mathematics, the Fields medal.

The winners for 2022 are James Maynard at the University of Oxford; Maryna Viazovska at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL); Hugo Duminil-Copin at the University of Geneva, Switzerland; and June Huh at Princeton University in New Jersey.

Kyiv-born Viazovska is only the second female recipient among the 64 mathematicians to have received the award.

“Sphere packing is a very natural geometric problem. You have a big box, and you have an infinite collection of equal balls, and you’re trying to put as many balls into the box as you can,” says Viazovska. Her contribution was to provide an explicit formula to prove the most efficient stacking pattern for spheres in eight dimensions – a problem she says took 13 years to solve.

Maynard’s work involved understanding the gaps between prime numbers, while Duminil-Copin’s contribution was in the theory of phase transitions – such as water turning to ice, or evaporating into steam – in statistical physics.

June Huh, who dropped out of high school aged 16 to become a poet, was recognised for a range of work including the innovative use of geometry in the field of combinatorics, the mathematics of counting and arranging.

The medal, which is considered to be as prestigious as the Nobel prize, is given to two, three or four mathematicians under the age of 40 every four years.

The awards were first given out in 1936 and are named in honour of Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields. This year’s awards were due to be presented at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Saint Petersburg, Russia, but the ceremony was relocated to Helsinki, Finland.

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*Credit for article given to **Matthew Sparkes***