Professor Terry Tao (born 1975) is an Australian mathematician now working in the US. Tao was a child prodigy who taught himself arithmetic at age 2. He received his PhD at age 20, was appointed a full professor at UCLA at age 24 and won the Field’s Medal in mathematics at age 31. This award is something analogous to a Nobel Prize in maths. (There is no Nobel Prize in mathematics though this is not because Nobel’s wife ran off with a mathematician).
Gregory Mankiw (and Joshua Gans) recently discussed a delightful version of the ‘airport problem’ a problem Tao conceived while manoeuvring around a long airport terminal. The apparently self-evident answer to the first part of this easy-to-state problem* is wrong but thinking clearly about the issue clearly resolves things quickly**.
Anyway I happened to see some classes given by Tao that have been recorded on YouTube. He is not only an obviously brilliant mathematician but an extremely able teacher. This introductory class on the prime numbers is beautifully presented. Poetic, insightful, simple.
It is a pity – from Australia’s perspective if not his own - that he is not working in Australia building up a great mathematics department and attracting scholars of renown here. I’d make the same observation about notable scholars in my own field of economics. That’s definitely not a criticism of any individual – purely an observation that academe here would be better-off with their presence.
By the way Terry Tao is also a blogger – I added his site to my list of blogs a few weeks ago.
*You wish to get from one end of a long airport terminal to the other in minimum time by walking and taking motorised walkways where you can also walk. But you need to stop to tie your shoelaces. Should you stop on or off the walkway?
** Consider two people taking the walking journey. They leave at the same time and one stops to tie his shoelace just before he gets on the walkway while the other takes one more step and gets on the walkway where he then ties his shoelace. It is easy to see who gets to the other end first!