M****o 发帖数: 4860  1 After Prime Proof, an Unlikely Star Rises
Two years ago, Yitang Zhang was virtually unknown. Now his surprise solution
to a major problem in number theory has catapulted him to mathematical
stardom. Where does he go from here?
https://www.quantamagazine.org/20150402primeproofzhanginterview/
By: Thomas Lin
April 2, 2015
As a boy in Shanghai, China, Yitang Zhang believed he would someday solve a
great problem in mathematics. In 1964, at around the age of nine, he found a
proof of the Pythagorean theorem, which describes the relationship between
the lengths of the sides of any right triangle. He was 10 when he first
learned about two famous number theory problems, Fermat’s last theorem and
the Goldbach conjecture. While he was not yet aware of the centuriesold
twin primes conjecture, he was already taken with prime numbers, often
described as indivisible “atoms” that make up all other natural numbers.
But soon after, the antiintellectual Cultural Revolution shuttered schools
and sent him and his mother to the countryside to work in the fields.
Because of his father’s troubles with the Communist Party, Zhang was also
unable to attend high school. For 10 years, he worked as a laborer, reading
books on math, history and other subjects when he could.
Not long after the revolution ended, Zhang, then 23, enrolled at Peking
University and became one of China’s top math students. After completing
his master’s at the age of 29, he was recruited by T. T. Moh to pursue a
doctorate at Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind. But, promising though he
was, after defending his dissertation in 1991 he could not find academic
work as a mathematician.
In George Csicsery’s new documentary film Counting From Infinity, Zhang
discusses his difficulties at Purdue and in the years that followed. He says
his doctoral adviser never wrote recommendation letters for him. (Moh has
written that Zhang did not ask for any.) Zhang admits that his shy, quiet
demeanor didn’t help in building relationships or making himself known to
the wider math community. During this initial jobhunting period, Zhang
sometimes lived in his car, according to his friend Jacob Chi, music
director of the Pueblo Symphony in Colorado. In 1992, Zhang began working at
another friend’s Subway sandwich restaurant. For about seven years he
worked odd jobs for various friends.
In 1999, at 44, Zhang caught a break. A mathematician friend helped him
secure work as a math lecturer at the University of New Hampshire. When he
wasn’t teaching his popular calculus classes, where students called him “
Tom,” he thought about number theory. By 2009, he had turned his attention
to the twin primes conjecture, which postulates that there are an infinite
number of prime number pairs with a difference of two. Examples of twin
prime pairs include 5 and 7, 11 and 13, and 17 and 19, but no one could
prove that these pairs continue to exist all the way up the number line. In
fact, no one could prove that there is any bounded prime gap at all, that
primes don’t just grow infinitely far apart.
On April 17, 2013, the then58yearold Zhang submitted his proof of a
bounded prime gap lower than 70 million to the Annals of Mathematics, one of
the field’s most prestigious journals. Within a remarkably expeditious
three weeks, the paper’s referees confirmed that Zhang, an unknown
mathematician, had proved “a landmark theorem in the distribution of prime
numbers.”
“Never heard of him. Absolutely never heard of him,” said Andrew Granville
, a number theorist at the University of Montreal, in Counting From Infinity
. When Granville heard about the result and the techniques that Zhang used,
he recalled saying, “There’s no way that somebody I’ve never heard of has
done this.”
Over the past two years, Zhang has traveled the world giving talks and has
received the Ostrowski Prize, the Cole Prize, the Rolf Schock Prize, a
MacArthur fellowship and the attention of this site, The New York Times, The
New Yorker and many major media outlets. Zhang fielded numerous job offers
and was promoted to full professor by the University of New Hampshire. This
February, Quanta Magazine caught up with Zhang at the American Association
for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose, Calif., where he
presented recent advances in bounded prime gaps. An edited and condensed
version of the interview follows.
QUANTA MAGAZINE: When and how did you first become aware that you were good
at math?
YITANG ZHANG: When I was maybe the age of nine, maybe a little earlier, I
was very interested in mathematics. I found the proof of Pythagoras’s
theorem. No one told me anything about that.
You were growing up in China — Shanghai — and later you weren’t able to
go to middle or high school.
Correct — because of the Cultural Revolution. At that time most of the
people forgot about the science, the education. And instead, I was in the
countryside just for the farm work. The revolution ended when I was 21. I
went to Peking University when I was 23.
When you were not in school, how did you keep learning mathematics? Did you
read books?
I read books. Actually, at that time I was also interested in lots of things
. Not only math! Just reading every book I could get, like history and other
topics.
Your background differs from that of most successful mathematicians. Even
after you came to the U.S. and earned your doctorate, things didn’t go so
smoothly. For many years, you were doing accounting work, working for
friends, and not part of an academic setting.
Correct.
The math establishment didn’t realize that, “OK, this is somebody we
should nurture and cultivate”?
This is correct. I was not lucky.
What can be done to better identify people like you?
Maybe it is more important for a person to make himself known to the public.
But that was not so easy for me. My personality didn’t allow me to be very
public, to be known by everyone, because maybe I’m too quiet.
There are other shy mathematicians who still seem to get the support they
need.
These days, maybe it’s easier. Historically, Riemann, Abel and many other
famous mathematicians did not have such easy lives. They were not lucky.
What is it about the problem of prime gaps and the distribution of primes
that is so interesting to you?
Problems like this are so interesting to every mathematician, I think,
because we try to answer the essential problems of the mystery of numbers.
When you decide which problem to tackle, what are the criteria? Does it have
to have a certain level of difficulty?
Yes, a certain level of difficulty. And an importance to mathematics. It’s
not that I say this is important, but that it is recognized as important by
the mathematical community as a whole.
What is your approach to math beyond what you’ve said in other interviews
— being patient and focused?
Do not easily say, “Oh, I really understand everything, so I have no
problem.” You try to discover problems, to ask yourself the problems. Then
you can find a correct direction to solve the problem.
Keep asking questions? And keep an open mind?
Yes. An open mind.
What questions are you asking right now?
Still in the field of number theory, I may not have only one problem to
think about, but a couple of problems, like the distribution of the zeros of
the zeta functions and the Lfunctions.
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Are you still thinking about the twin primes conjecture — getting the gap
down to two?
That’s not an easy problem. I didn’t find a certain way to do it.
What would get the public more interested in mathematics?
Many problems — in number theory in particular — are easy for the public
to understand. Even with some of the deeper mathematical problems, it is not
difficult to understand the problem itself. That could help people to
become more interested in mathematics.
When you picture a mathematician, you’re probably not thinking of someone
who’s onstage and getting awards. What is your image of a mathematician?
Intuition. Your feelings in math. What is that? It’s difficult to tell
other people. That’s your personal stuff.
Some of the big awards in math, particularly the Fields Medal, are aimed at
younger mathematicians. You were in your mid50s when you worked on bounded
prime gaps. You’re 60 now.
I don’t care so much about the age problem. I don’t think there is a big
difference. I can still do whatever I like to do.
When you were younger and first starting to get interested in math, did you
ever imagine that you would solve a major problem like this?
Yes. When I was very young, I imagined there would be a day that I would
solve a major math problem. I’m selfconfident.
So you weren’t necessarily surprised that you were able to solve the
bounded prime gaps problem.
What surprised me was that my paper was recognized within three weeks. I
hadn’t expected that.
You were very busy afterward, traveling to universities and responding to
media requests. Are you looking forward to a period with fewer talks and
interviews — just focusing on the next problem?
I’m tired! I wish I could save my time and not spend too much of it being a
star.
What do you hope to achieve over the next couple of decades?
I hope I can solve a few more important problems just like this.  l******r 发帖数: 18699  2 看你歇斯底里的嫉妒我们这些牛人 真好笑 你这辈子就平平淡淡的迈向棺材吧 这才是
你的归宿 
 M****o 发帖数: 4860  3 我歇斯底里嫉妒你妈
你给老张提鞋的吗
【在 l******r 的大作中提到】 : 看你歇斯底里的嫉妒我们这些牛人 真好笑 你这辈子就平平淡淡的迈向棺材吧 这才是 : 你的归宿
 l******r 发帖数: 18699  4 老张，老丘都是我们牛人俱乐部的成员
打死你也够不着的，眼红吧你
【在 M****o 的大作中提到】 : 我歇斯底里嫉妒你妈 : 你给老张提鞋的吗
 M****o 发帖数: 4860   l******r 发帖数: 18699  6 接着眼红去吧你 你整天嫉妒我们这些牛人你累不累啊？
【在 M****o 的大作中提到】 : 得了吧，就你给老张老丘当看门狗人家都嫌你智商低
 M****o 发帖数: 4860  7 民科，滚粗。
发信人: lookacar (买买提外f研究首席专家), 信区: Mathematics
标 题: Re: 给找教职同胞的建议
发信站: BBS 未名空间站 (Thu Apr 9 11:00:46 2015, 美东)
还是要看做的牛不牛,英语其次
我前年找工作,给talk前系主任问我要slides看了看，看完立刻说给我offer（虽然最后
还要dean决定，过来后知道他跟dean关系极好，这也是为什么敢跟我promise呵呵）,最
后talk就是个过场。当然我的英语也很好。
【在 l******r 的大作中提到】 : 接着眼红去吧你 你整天嫉妒我们这些牛人你累不累啊？
 l******r 发帖数: 18699  8 看你痛苦挣扎的混迹学术界 我很感慨：基因不好真难混啊
【在 M****o 的大作中提到】 : 民科，滚粗。 : 发信人: lookacar (买买提外f研究首席专家), 信区: Mathematics : 标 题: Re: 给找教职同胞的建议 : 发信站: BBS 未名空间站 (Thu Apr 9 11:00:46 2015, 美东) : 还是要看做的牛不牛,英语其次 : 我前年找工作,给talk前系主任问我要slides看了看，看完立刻说给我offer（虽然最后 : 还要dean决定，过来后知道他跟dean关系极好，这也是为什么敢跟我promise呵呵）,最 : 后talk就是个过场。当然我的英语也很好。
 M****o 发帖数: 4860  9 民科，滚粗。
【在 l******r 的大作中提到】 : 看你痛苦挣扎的混迹学术界 我很感慨：基因不好真难混啊
 l******r 发帖数: 18699  10 你再怎么嫉妒也赶不上我带的phd学生，基因劣等不是你的错,hahaha
【在 M****o 的大作中提到】 : 民科，滚粗。
 
 l******r 发帖数: 18699  11 看来你是真疯了，不是装的，来来去去就会说这么一句话了，哈哈哈
我打假的威力这么大哦
【在 M****o 的大作中提到】 : 民科，滚粗。
 M****o 发帖数: 4860  12 民科，滚粗。
【在 l******r 的大作中提到】 : 你再怎么嫉妒也赶不上我带的phd学生，基因劣等不是你的错,hahaha
 M****o 发帖数: 4860  13 民科，滚粗。
【在 l******r 的大作中提到】 : 看来你是真疯了，不是装的，来来去去就会说这么一句话了，哈哈哈 : 我打假的威力这么大哦
 l******r 发帖数: 18699  14 大家快来微观疯子
【在 M****o 的大作中提到】 : 民科，滚粗。
 M****o 发帖数: 4860  15
【在 l******r 的大作中提到】 : 大家快来微观疯子
 l******r 发帖数: 18699  16 接着嫉妒
气死你
【在 M****o 的大作中提到】

