A math legend just died. He literally reinvented aspects of modern math.


Not going to class isn’t typically something good to boast about. But perhaps the late Vladimir Voevodsky is the exception to the rule. 

Voevodsky is credited with founding new fields of mathematics, such as motivic homotopy theory, and a computer tool to help check mathematical proofs, as the New York Times explored in an obituary this week. The latter was a feat that other mathematicians didn’t dare approach, but Voevodsky’s effort has overwhelmingly benefited the industry — and everyone, really — by allowing mathematicians to fact-check their work.

He died at age 51 on Sept. 30, at his home in Princeton, New Jersey from unknown causes. He leaves behind his former wife Nadia Shalaby and their two daughters. 

“His contributions are so fundamental that it’s impossible to imagine how things were thought of before him,” Chris Kapulkin, a former colleague at the University of Western Ontario, told the Times.

Among Voevodsky’s achievements was changing the meaning of the equal sign. In 2002, he won the Fields Medal for discovering the existence of a “mathematical wormhole” that allowed theoretical tools in one field of mathematics to be used in another field. 

He wasn’t a top student of the traditional, rule-abiding sense. According to the Times, Voevodsky was kicked out of high school three times. He was also kicked out of Moscow University after failing academically. He later attended Harvard. Despite neglecting to attend lectures, he graduated in 1992.  

He worked through it all, and all present and future mathematicians have him to thank. 

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