Abstract: Andrew Wiles within the Andrew Wiles Building.

Professor Sir Andrew Wiles KBE FRS signed my dear copy of Papa Rudin on the stairs outside my office within the Andrew Wiles Building (named for this dude). I will never forget his inspirational words to me (20/10/2016 lest we forget), “I never thought I would be signing Rudin.” Thank you, dear sir.

For those of you who do not know of Andrew Wiles (get out! now! jks, pls stay I need views), he is the fabled mathematician who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, a long-standing problem. Quoting Wikipedia (valid) “This theorem was first conjectured by Pierre de Fermat in 1637 in the margin of a copy of Arithmetica where he claimed he had a proof that was too large to fit in the margin. The first successful proof was released in 1994 by (guess who) Andrew Wiles, and formally published in 1995, after 358 years of effort by mathematicians. The unsolved problem stimulated the development of algebraic number theory in the 19th century and the proof of the modularity theorem in the 20th century. It is among the most notable theorems in the history of mathematics and prior to its proof, it was in the Guiness Book of World Records as the ‘most difficult mathematical problem’, one of the reasons being that it has the largest number of unsuccessful proofs.”

The story of our meeting is as follows. I opened my office door to commence my periodic hourly trip to the bathroom for my routine water bottle refilling, bladder emptying (these two do not happen simultaneously!), nose and sinus unloading, and lungs and airway purging (seriously, I keep my trim nerd figure by discarding excess weight through my face). There, in front of unworthy me, was Andrew Wiles (the man, the myth, the legend!),  standing on the stairhead at outside my door. He was practicing a short speech, to be filmed by two other mathematicians. I blindly rushed off to the bathroom, terrified by being in such close proximity with the awesome presence of the eponym of the building. When I had time again to think in the bathroom, I decided that if he was still outside when I was finished, I would gather my courage and ask for an autograph (in return for perpetual servitude and an oath of fealty as a faithful vassal).

When I returned from the bathroom, one of the filmmakers raised a silent hand to prevent me from coming too close and disrupting the video. When they were finished, I stood awkwardly, about five metres away, unsure whether or not I was permitted to approach. After a suitable time of foot shuffling, I walked up and gasped to no one in particular, “May I have your autograph?” The same filmmaker laughed and said, “Of all the places to ask for an autograph, here? You know he is here every single day? Well, if Andrew doesn’t mind…” We all turned to looked at Wiles, who mildly consented and I, struggling to contain my fanboy urges, breathlessly explained, “I’m a new DPhil student, just arrived, and… my office is just here, let me get a pen and a book.” I threw my door open, grabbed Rudin off the shelf and an Artline pen from the table, came out again and Wiles signed the front page. They were all rather amused at my choice of book, but my goal now is to get all the illustrious mathematicians I meet to sign my worn Rudin (next target, Professor Sir John Ball).

An amusing thought that came to my mind when I first saw Wiles was how well he cut the image of mathematical genius. He was thin, and looked like the wind could blow him over. He also had one of the softest voices I have ever heard. It made me feel that he probably spoke rarely, but that if and when he did, he would speak not mortal words, but unadulterated brilliance. I would describe him as similar in the extreme to a tall fragile vase filled with one of the greatest minds ever. He is giving a series of lectures on Galois representations and automorphic forms in the next few weeks, which I intend to attend at least once (even if  I understand nothing), if only to semi-legitimately claim that I have been taught by the erudite sage himself (that makes us practically best mates, amirite?).

Appendix of Terms:

  • KBE – Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. KNIGHT COMMANDER!
  • (Papa) Rudin – Real and Complex Analysis by Walter Rudin, a timeless classic. Rudin has written several books, but his most well known ones are informally known as Baby (roughly speaking the undergraduate) and Papa (roughly speaking the graduate) analysis texts. I highly recommend Chapters 1-7 of Baby (Principles of Mathematical Analysis) Rudin as a starting text to analysis. The proofs presented are elegant and the exposition is easy to read. Papa Rudin is known for being especially terse, and often the proofs sacrifice motivation and intuition for economical concision. I would, however, still endorse Papa Rudin, though for the purpose of reading selective chapters relevant to your interest. Papa Rudin was one of the first (if not the first) proper mathematical texts I ever bought.
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem – there are no three positive integers $a, b, c$ that satisfy the equation $a^n +b^n = c^n$ for any integer $n$ greater than two.
  • Artline pen – here I am referring to the Artline200 Fine 0.4 Tip. This felt tip pen (first properly introduced to me by Josh) is second only to those of the fountain pen family when it comes to doing mathematics on paper.

I was intending to describe the last week in this post, but I think Wiles deserves his own post. There will be another post following soon.