### A Meddlesome Moment at the Fields Medal Awards!

The Fields Medal is the most prestigious award in mathematics, a recognition so esteemed that it is often compared to the Nobel Prize. Every four years, a selection committee chooses two to four mathematicians under the age of 40 to honour for their “existing work and for the promise of future achievement”. Then, at a meeting of the International Congress of Mathematics, they announce the winners and hand out 14-carat gold medals that cost more than $US4000 ($NZ5932) each.

When Caucher Birkar, a professor at Cambridge University, heard that he would be awarded one of this year’s medals at a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, he was thrilled.Cambridge University released a statement saying that Birkar was honoured “for his work on categorising different kinds of polynomial equations. He proved that the infinite variety of such equations can be split into a finite number of classifications, a major breakthrough in the field of bi-rational geometry,” the statement said.

The 40-year-old, who specialises in algebraic geometry, was raised in a Kurdish village in Iran and, after studying at the University of Tehran, sought political asylum in Britain and completed his studies at the University of Nottingham.

In an interview with *Quanta* magazine, Birkar said that “*to go from the point that I didn’t imagine meeting these people to the point where someday I hold a medal myself – I just couldn’t imagine that this would come true*“.

Then the medal was stolen from him shortly after he received it. Birkar apparently put his medal in his briefcase, alongside his wallet and phone. He left the briefcase on a table in the convention centre, and, in a matter of minutes, the briefcase was gone, according to Brazilian outlets.

Someone was very meddlesome!

### Finding Hidden Treasure unlocks key to Algebra

In the news recently was the discovery (off the coast of Colombia) of a Spanish galleon laden with treasure – a whopping $22 billion worth of gold. The 62-gun, three-masted galleon known as the ‘San Jose’ went down on June 8, 1708. Along with it, all 600 people on board, as well as treasures of gold, silver and emeralds were dragged to the ocean’s bed where they would remain for the next 300 years.

The whereabouts of the ship was a mystery until Massachusetts-based WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) managed to capture images that located the San Jose in more than 600 metres of water.

The following video is an old one but also uses pirate ships to excite young minds to discover the hidden treasure!

### You can’t build these gates with Lego!

Researchers at Oxford University have set a new speed record for the ‘logic gates’ that form the building blocks of quantum computing – a technology that has the potential to dwarf the processing power of today’s classical computers.

The Oxford team is using a trapped-ion technique to develop its computer, in which logic gates place two charged atoms – containing information in the form of quantum bits, or *qubits* – in a state of quantum entanglement.

Described by Einstein as ‘spooky’, entanglement means that the properties of the two atoms stay linked, even when they are separated by great distances. The research builds on previous work in which the team, led by Professor David Lucas and Professor Andrew Steane (above) of Oxford’s Department of Physics, achieved a world record for the precision of the logic gate, reaching the demanding accuracy set by theoretical models of quantum computing.

The lead authors of the paper are Oxford doctoral student Vera Schäfer, and Dr Chris Ballance, a research fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Vera Schäfer said: ‘Quantum computing will be ideally suited for tasks such as factorising large numbers or simulating complex reactions between molecules to help with drug development. Previous work in our group produced quantum logic gates with record-breaking precision. We then began work on increasing the speed of those gates without compromising their accuracy, which is tricky.

‘Trapped ions move like a pendulum during the gate operation, but when this process is sped up they become sensitive to a number of factors that cause errors.

‘By making use of a technique that precisely shapes the force on the ions such that the gate performance becomes robust to these factors, we were able to increase the speed by a factor of 20 to 60 compared with the previous best gates – 1.6 microseconds long, with 99.8% precision. [One *microsecond* is to one second as one second is to 11.574 days]

‘We have now produced the highest fidelity and the fastest gate, reaching a point where our gates are in principle good enough for quantum computing. The next step is to think about it in practical terms and work towards scaling up our system to create a viable quantum computer.’

### A space bus was heading your way!

Launched in 2011, Tiangong 1 was China’s first space station, serving as an experimental platform for bigger projects.

The European Space Agency forecast that the bus-sized station, whose name translates as “Heavenly Palace,” would re-enter sometime this morning NZT. The Chinese space agency said it should happen during the course of today Beijing time.

Based on the space station’s orbit, it was supposed to come back to Earth somewhere 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, a range covering most of the United States, China, Africa, southern Europe, Australia and South America. Out of range are Russia, Canada and northern Europe (so you guys are OK). The chances of any one being hit by debris were considered less than *one in a trillion*. So, by H3’s calculations, that excluded most of us! [Side Note: Lottie Williams is still the only person known to have been hit by falling space debris. She was struck, but not injured, by a falling piece of a US Delta II rocket while exercising in an Oklahoma park in 1997.]

Note: a trillion has 12 zeros – that is, 1,000,000,000,000! So, a trillion is a thousand times one billion (9 zeros). That’s a very large number! Check out this 9min video to get an idea of what these big numbers look like when using $US100 bills:

The “bus” pulled up near Tahiti – phew, that was close!

### Why are Prime Numbers so Important?

Prime numbers are cool. As Carl Sagan points out so eloquently in the novel *Contact*, there’s a certain importance to their status as the most fundamental building block of all numbers, which are themselves the building blocks of our understanding of the universe. Whether it’s communicating your credit card information to Amazon, logging into your bank, or sending a manually encrypted email to a colleague, we are constantly using computer encryption. And that means we are constantly using prime numbers, and relying on their odd numerical properties for protection of the cyber-age way of life.

Read more at extremetech.com