Manifold Destiny – Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber

From The New Yorker magazine:

On the evening of June 20th, several hundred physicists, including a Nobel laureate, assembled in an auditorium at the Friendship Hotel in Beijing for a lecture by the Chinese mathematician Shing-Tung Yau In the late nineteen-seventies, when Yau was in his twenties, he had made a series of breakthroughs that helped launch the string-theory revolution in physics and earned him, in addition to a Fields Medal”the most coveted award in mathematics”a reputation in both disciplines as a thinker of unrivalled technical power. [Full text]

Yau had since become a professor of mathematics at Harvard and the director of mathematics institutes in Beijing and Hong Kong, dividing his time between the United States and China. His lecture at the Friendship Hotel was part of an international conference on string theory, which he had organized with the support of the Chinese government, in part to promote the country’s recent advances in theoretical physics. (More than six thousand students attended the keynote address, which was delivered by Yau’s close friend Stephen Hawking, in the Great Hall of the People.) The subject of Yau’s talk was something that few in his audience knew much about: the Poincar√© conjecture, a century-old conundrum about the characteristics of three-dimensional spheres, which, because it has important implications for mathematics and cosmology and because it has eluded all attempts at solution, is regarded by mathematicians as a holy grail. [Full text]

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