Theoretical mathematician Jacob Tsimerman receives prestigious 2022 New Horizons Prize

October 29, 2021 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

Jacob Tsimerman, an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Mathematics, has been awarded a distinguished 2022 New Horizons Prize in Mathematics.

New Horizons Prizes are awarded annually by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation to early-career researchers in physics and mathematics who have made a substantial impact in their fields. This year, six New Horizons Prizes were announced in September 2021 along with Breakthrough and New Frontiers Prizes.

“It feels great to receive this recognition,” says Tsimerman. “But there are a lot of people involved in the work I do — it's a big community — so it feels good to be able to share the honour with my colleagues.”

"The New Horizons Prize is one of the top international awards for rising young stars in mathematics," says Robert Jerrard, chair of the Department of Mathematics. "It confirms Jacob's stature as one of the foremost number theorists of his generation. It honours his breakthrough research spanning disparate areas — number theory, algebraic geometry and model theory — leading to a proof of the celebrated André-Oort Conjecture."

Tsimerman, who showed an interest in math puzzles as early as the age of three, received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from U of T in 2006 and his PhD from Princeton University in 2011. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and was awarded a Sloan Fellowship. When he joined U of T as an assistant professor in 2014, he was the youngest faculty member in the department.

Tsimerman’s research focuses primarily on analytic number theory and arithmetic geometry. “I study whole number solutions to certain types of polynomial equations,” he explains. “So, solutions to equations like 'X+ Y3 = 1.' That's a pretty simple example but these questions are connected to deeply important ideas in modern mathematics.”

One of Tsimerman’s most notable research accomplishments is his contribution to a proof for a longstanding mathematical hypothesis called the André-Oort conjecture.

Tsimerman adds the New Horizons Prize to an already impressive list of honours and achievements.

In 2003 and 2004, he was a gold medalist in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), a competition for high school students from around the world. He is also a former chair of the Canadian IMO Committee.

In 2015, he was the first Canadian to win the prestigious Sastra Ramanujan Prize, a distinction awarded each year to a mathematician under the age of 32 whose outstanding contributions to the discipline were influenced by the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

In 2017, he received the André Aisenstadt Prize from the Centre de recherche mathématiques at the University of Montréal. The prize is awarded to young Canadian mathematicians for exceptional research.

And in 2019, the Canadian Mathematical Society awarded Tsimerman with the Coxeter-James Prize, an honour bestowed on young mathematicians for their contributions to the discipline.

While advances in mathematics like the André-Oort conjecture may not lead to practical applications such as more secure digital encryption or faster quantum computers, Tsimerman takes a more holistic view of the value of his work and the field.

“Certainly, some mathematical research will have applications in the modern world. But it’s hard to predict what research that will be and what the applications will be.

“I think it’s the practice of math and having a vibrant mathematical research community that’s important for society,” he says. “The value of the field itself is of more value than any particular theorem.”