Yitang Zhang, an overseas Chinese mathematician who is currently a lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Statistics of New Hampshire University, has made a splash in the international mathematical circles due to his recently-released paper on the weak twin prime conjecture.
Thanks to his breakthrough in this ancient mathematical problem, this modest and little-known Chinese mathematician has suddenly attracted the attention of the mainstream media, and has been lauded as a quiet genius becoming famous overnight.
Twin Prime Conjecture
In April 2013, Yitang Zhang contributed his paper regarding the so-called “bounded gaps between primes” to a prestigious journal, Annals of Mathematics. His tremendous breakthrough has astonished mathematicians at home and abroad. It is the first time that someone has proved there are an infinite number of primes separated by an actual number.
Got inspired when visiting his friend
Dr. Zhang has studied the twin prime conjecture for the last four years, but the epiphany didn’t come to him until last July when he visited his friend in Colorado.
As Dr. Zhang’s proof is very clear and convincing, his discovery not only is an astounding breakthrough, but undoubtedly is an important milestone in mathematics as well.
Henryk Iwaniec, an American mathematic theory expert and also one of the reviewers of the British journal Nature commented: “The proof is super important relatively to everything that happens in maths – and mathematical physics.”
Yitang Zhang was invited to give a keynote speech at Harvard University on May 13, in which he presented the progress of his research. His speech was highly praised by the audience. The British journal Nature’s online report referred to his achievement as an important milestone. In the meantime, his academic achievement has caused a sensation among major US research institutions, and various institutions have sent invitations to him one after another.
Life is hard, but he never gives up
Born in 1955, Yitang Zhang is from Beijing, China, and his ancestors were from Pinghu in Zhejiang Province. In 1978, he was admitted to the Mathematics Department of Peking University with honors, and earned his masters degree there. In 1985, he went to the United States, and got his doctorate in Purdue University afterward.
After getting his doctoral degree in 1992, Yitang Zhang couldn’t find any academic job. To make a living, he did a variety of work, such as temporary accountant, restaurant assistant, food delivery worker, etc. Though wandering around and suffering hardships, he persistently researched mathematical problems.
In 1999, Zhang finally found a non-established teaching assistant job at the University of New Hampshire. A few years later, he became a lecturer of the university. In addition to teaching undergraduate classes, he taught graduate classes as well. Though Zhang’s teaching job was quite busy, he still managed to find time to study math problems interesting to him.
Perseverance-the reason for his success
When asked to share the reasons for his success, he said that what’s most important is perseverance. As to his feeling about his becoming famous overnight, he mentioned that there are three things that made him feel happy, saying “Firstly, I am happy to have solved the problem. Secondly, I am pleased to see my findings recognized so quickly. Thirdly, I am delighted to be able to persevere with the problem.”
He added that another reason for his success is that he is very lucky. He explained that he is very lucky to be able to persevere in what he has a passion for. He stressed, “You’ve got to pay full attention to it all year round.”
That being said, he has turned down an offer from a pinnacle research institute in China, saying, “I won’t go back to China in the near future.” He added that his main concern was that going back to China might not be good for his research, and there might be a lot of interference.
As an old saying goes, “You can’t always do as you like; one has to compromise in this world;” That being the case, “I would not be what I am now,” he added.
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