Professor Sir Martin Hairer from Imperial College London has been awarded $3m (£2.3m) from Mark Zuckerberg’s science foundation for developing equations related to stirring a cup of tea.
Professor Hairer, who is a dual British-Austrian national, won the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.
The 44-year-old will receive his money and a trophy at a live awards ceremony to be held next year.
The Breakthrough Prizes were initiated by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mr Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, as well as Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner and his wife Julie Milner, and Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder of 23andMe.
Professor Hairer said: “I was surprised but obviously very honoured. I’m very happy it I can inspire some people to study mathematics or even just understand a little bit better what maths is all about.
“Maths is truth. Once you discover something in maths, it applies to all eternity.”
He had previously won the Fields Medal in 2014 – often described as the equivalent to a Nobel Prize in mathematics – and was knighted in 2016.
His work “focuses on generating equations to accurately describe seemingly random motion in time and space, such as how droplets of water spread across the surface of a napkin, the growth of bacteria on a Petri dish, or the chaotic activity of millions of individuals making stock trades,” according to Imperial College London.
Known as stochastic partial differential equations (PDEs), Professor Hairer drove forward the understanding of regularity structures which model random effects on physical systems, “effectively creating an analytical tool kit for studying stochastic PDEs”.
“While the exact details of the fluctuation of the stock market and the movement of water atoms are very different, their probabilistic outcome is the same,” explained Professor Hairer.
He and his mathematician wife, Professor Xue-Mei Li, moved to London three years ago, where they current rent – although they said they plan to use the £2.3m prize to purchase a home.