Peter Scholze: deep connections between number theory and geometry.

Source: Quanta, Jun 2016

The 22-year-old student, Peter Scholze, had found a way to sidestep one of the most complicated parts of the proof, which deals with a sweeping connection between number theory and geometry.

his unnerving ability to see deep into the nature of mathematical phenomena. Unlike many mathematicians, he often starts not with a particular problem he wants to solve, but with some elusive concept that he wants to understand for its own sake.

As Scholze burrowed into the proof, he became captivated by the mathematical objects involved — structures called modular forms and elliptic curves that mysteriously unify disparate areas of number theory, algebra, geometry and analysis. Reading about the kinds of objects involved was perhaps even more fascinating than the problem itself, he said.

Scholze’s mathematical tastes were taking shape. Today, he still gravitates toward problems that have their roots in basic equations about whole numbers. Those very tangible roots make even esoteric mathematical structures feel concrete to him. “I’m interested in arithmetic, in the end,” he said. He’s happiest, he said, when his abstract constructions lead him back around to small discoveries about ordinary whole numbers.

Scholze avoids getting tangled in the jungle vines by forcing himself to fly above them: As when he was in college, he prefers to work without writing anything down. That means that he must formulate his ideas in the cleanest way possible, he said. “You have only some kind of limited capacity in your head, so you can’t do too complicated things.”

In the middle of the 20th century, mathematicians discovered an astonishing link between reciprocity laws and what seemed like an entirely different subject: the “hyperbolic” geometry of patterns such as M.C. Escher’s famousangel-devil tilings of a disk. This link is a core part of the “Langlands program,” a collection of interconnected conjectures and theorems about the relationship between number theory, geometry and analysis. When these conjectures can be proved, they are often enormously powerful: For instance, the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem boiled down to solving one small (but highly nontrivial) section of the Langlands program.

Mathematicians have gradually become aware that the Langlands program extends far beyond the hyperbolic disk; it can also be studied in higher-dimensional hyperbolic spaces and a variety of other contexts. Now, Scholze has shown how to extend the Langlands program to a wide range of structures in “hyperbolic three-space” — a three-dimensional analogue of the hyperbolic disk — and beyond. By constructing a perfectoid version of hyperbolic three-space, Scholze has discovered an entirely new suite of reciprocity laws.

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