Influential Vietnamese: Ngo Bao Chau and the Fundamental Lemma


Ngô Bao Châu


In 2009, Vietnamese-born Ngô Bao Châu found himself in TIME magazine as the man responsible for one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009.

His discovery?

The proof to the fundamental lemma.  I’ve tried my best to digest the basics of the theory, but since it has been over ten years since my last math class (Calculus D), everything looks like a foreign language.  From what I’ve gathered, Ngo’s proof is an extremely important bridge between number theory and group theory.

So great is Ngo’s discovery that Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division at the University of Chicago, deems Ngo “one of the great mathematicians of our time.”  Consequently, Ngo has been appointed a faculty position at the prestigious University of Chicago.

Ngo is 37 years old (despite is youthful appearance).  Ngo received is PhD from the Université Paris-Sud in 1997 and is currently a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.  Read more about Ngo’s appointment at UChicago here.

Understand the difference between number and group theory? Know another Influential Vietnamese we should feature? Let us know in the comments!

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8 Responses

  1. @Vinh Maybe you can help explain what the Fundamental Lemma is? Can anyone??

  2. Excellent accomplishment! I teach math on the side . . . but won't even try to tackle the "what is it" question. I do have a more fundamental mathematical question that arises from the statement "Ngo is 37 years old (Despite his youthful appearance)." What are you saying? 37 is old?Excuse me while I go get my walker.(just kidding.)

  3. one day, you're gonna see me on the list of economists. 😀

  4. vnmath says:

    I would put Ngo at least in the same league with Terry Tao ( if not better ! ). Watch out for Ngo's math striking power . He is probably among the very very few mathematicians who will prove those decade olds or century old math problems. The fundamental lemma is just ONE example of his discoveries. It is his FIRST proof. He surely will capture the fields medal this coming august in Hyderabad, India.

  5. Vinh Dang says:

    I'm not gonna attempt to explain what the Fundamental Lemma is to the general audience as I already know that I will fail in doing so. Even when I was reading the proof of the Lemma, I wasn't even sure if I was able to digest half of it as it didn't make much sense to me. But I trust the society of Mathematicians that it is indeed valid. To my knowledge, Chau's proof was submitted in 2004, but it has not been validated until 2009. It could be that the process was very laggy or the proof was too difficult to digest for the board members as well. (?!) =PMore onto why his proof is so famous. Usually, lemma is a small problem that someone would have to prove in order to use its result in proving a bigger proposition, such as a theorem. Langlands (still alive) was able to prove the small version of this Fundamental Lemma, which is a one-single case of the lemma, and used its result in proving one of his discovery. However, when asking if the general case (the bigger version) of the lemma, which is the Fundamental Lemma itself, is indeed valid. None of the mathematicians including Langlands was able to prove this lemma for the past 20 years. This brings some questions about whether Langlands' discovery is true in general. As you can see, this lemma is not a small problem, so the person who named it back then has underestimated its difficulty. It is a huge problem to be solved, and Chau was the person who proved it based on many incomplete works of other mathematicians who have tried.Disclaimer: If you are a math guru and happen to read this, please pardon the shallowness of my knowledge. I may not understand the matter completely but eager to learn more if you're willing to share.

  6. jhbao says:

    At 37, I imagine he has a lot of time left in his career. It will be great to see what he comes up with next.

  7. VinhD says:

    One word from me: Respect!

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