Who Is Caucher Birkar? Professor Wins 'Nobel Prize of Mathematics,' Was Stolen From Him Minutes Later

Caucher Birkar receives the Fields Medal Award, math’s most prestigious prize, during the International Congress of Mathematicians in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 1. The winner of this award, considered a “Nobel Prize of mathematics” had his medal stolen 30 minutes after it was awarded. AFP/Getty

The winner of the Fields Medal, considered a sort of "Nobel Prize of mathematics," had his award stolen 30 minutes after it was awarded.

The Fields Medal, the top prize in mathematics, was awarded to four winners, including Iranian Kurd Caucher Birkar, on Wednesday at the International Congress of Mathematics, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Birkar, who is now a Cambridge University math professor, put the medal in his briefcase along with his cellphone and wallet. Shortly after Birkar put the briefcase down on a table, it went missing.

The 14-karat-gold medal along with Birkar's wallet was missing when staff from the event's security team found the suitcase under a bench in another pavilion.

Birkar was honored for his work "on categorizing different kinds of polynomial equations," according to The Washington Post, citing a statement from Cambridge University. "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 birational geometry," the statement added.

Born in Iran's Kurdish province of Marivan in 1978, Birkar was raised in the middle of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. After graduating from the University of Tehran, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham in 2004. According to the statement, he originally moved to the U.K. as a Kurdish refugee.

"War-ridden Kurdistan was an unlikely place for a kid to develop an interest in mathematics," Birkar told the International Congress of Mathematicians. "I'm hoping that this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people."

This is the first time that the event, which takes place every four years, has been held in Latin America. "The International Congress of Mathematicians is profoundly sorry about the disappearance of the briefcase belonging to the mathematician Caucher Birkar, which contained his Fields Medal from the ceremony this morning," organizers of the event said in a statement.

"Images recorded at the event are being analyzed," the statement continued, "the organizing committee is cooperating with local police authorities in their investigation."

After the footage was reviewed by the police, two potential suspects were identified, The Independent reported.

The three other winners from the event were Indian-Australian Akshay Venkatesh, German-born Peter Scholze, and Italy's Alessio Figalli.

Venkatesh was born in India, but raised in Australia, and specializes in number theory. When he was 13, he began an undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics at the University of Western Australia. Scholze received his medal for his work in arithmetic algebraic geometry, while Figalli calculates variations and partial differential equations, CBS News reported.

Since 1950, the award has been presented to mathematicians every four years. In order to be eligible for the award, the mathematician must be under 40 years of age.