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  Ildar settles into life at Cambridge

Posted Thursday 19 February 2009

[Ildar Gaisin]

By Janine Bavin


We refer to an earlier report by former Australian Mathematics Competition (AMC) and International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) medallist, Ildar Gaisin. Quite a lot has happened for Ildar since then. We thought you might like to know a little more about Ildar and where life can take such exceptional maths students.

Ildar migrated to Australia from Russia with his parents when he was six years of age and then lived at Mermaid Beach on Queensland’s Gold Coast. After attending and distinguishing himself academically at nearby All Saints Anglican School for Years 11 and 12, Ildar won a scholarship to Cambridge University.

Peter Gotley, Ildar’s former maths teacher at All Saints, said “I think he may have impressed them at the scholarship interview, which is one hour in duration and is conducted by three of the Professors. The student is asked firstly why they like mathematics and then the remaining time is spent probing his or her knowledge of mathematics eg. “How would you integrate...?”

To the question “Why do you like mathematics?”, Ildar replied that the best way to answer this was for him to pose a mathematical question. The question he posed was in a field that they were not too familiar with . . . projective geometry. The four of them happily spent the remainder of the hour in pursuit of the solution!

Ildar was also offered scholarships to both the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney, where he studied third year subjects for one semester after finishing school.

In October 2008, Ildar commenced a degree at Cambridge often referred to as the Mathematical Tripos. He is now halfway through his first year and will sit exams in late May. He will finish his Masters in 2011 and will most likely then continue on to obtain a PhD.

He describes one of the highlights of his life there to be his weekly meeting with Professor John H Coates, FRS (Sadleirian Professor of Pure Mathematics at Cambridge University) to discuss the Riemann Hypothesis. Considered to be the most important unsolved problem in pure mathematics, there is a $1 million prize offered by the Clay Foundation for the first correct proof.

Professor Coates was born in Possum Brush, near Taree, and was at one stage a Professor at the Australian National University. He in fact supervised renowned British Mathematician, Sir Andrew John Wiles, KBE, FRS, when he was taking his PhD at Cambridge. Now a Professor at Princeton University, Sir Andrew is renowned for proving Fermat’s Last Theorem, the world’s most famous mathematical problem and John Coates helped put Sir Andrew Wiles on the path, via elliptic curves, which ultimately provided the proof.

“It’s not wise to say this, but my dream for quite a while now has been to solve the Riemann Hypothesis.” Ildar stated.

“We have example sheets every second week and there are only a few of the 200 first year students who have solved all the questions on all the example sheets. I am indeed one of them”, he added.

Ildar says that the only “non-trivial activities” he engages in outside of mathematics include representing the university in athletics. He competes in the 400m/800m/1500m running events and is the fastest in his year for 800m and fourth fastest in the team.

In May, Ildar will represent Cambridge against Oxford in the annual Varsity matches. If results go his way, he could then qualify for a Blue which is the highest sporting achievement at Cambridge. With another glittering prize in his sights, he aspires to competing in the 2012 Olympics.

Ildar also rows at a lower level in the Elevens for his college, King’s, which he describes as “the one with the big chapel”.

He has not really had time for sightseeing, however he finds Cambridge “truly amazing” as a destination in itself. Ildar says he has made many friends there, some of whom have also represented their countries at IMOs. He is a mentor to the British students who are attempting to make the 2009 British IMO team.

Ildar is uncertain at this stage where he will reside when he finishes his studies in the UK. He may move to the United States or possibly return home to Australia. One of his career ambitions is to either solve or make some contribution to addressing the problem of global warming.

Peter Gotley reminisced, “I first heard of Ildar at the beginning of the 2006 year. I had a call from the Headmaster to say that he had a father and son in his office and was enrolling the lad into Year 11. He said they wanted to go to the International Mathematical Olympiad and that famous phrase from the movie The Castle came to mind - "Tell 'em they're dreamin’.” (You don't just go to an IMO without years of prep).

The Headmaster then sent Ildar down to my office where we chatted for a while. I asked him did he realise that as soon as you prime factor a number, you immediately know how many factors it has. And then off he went to catch the bus home. Not ten minutes later, I noticed a figure running towards my office in one of those sudden Queensland rainstorms. It was Ildar returning and, yes, he had proved the theorem!”

Peter added that, when at All Saints, “Ildar was probably the only student ever to have his own office - next to the HOD Mathematics. You know, he was always there in the morning before I arrived and always there after I left! Also he mixed easily with all of his peer social groupings as well as the staff at the school”.

“I am excited about his future prospects. As I said before, Ildar is a 'relentless' mathematician. Yes, he was a late starter at school in mathematics competitions, but is a well-balanced individual who actually loves doing as much mathematics in a day as he can. I predict that one day he will be in the top handful of mathematicians that Australia has produced!” Peter concluded.

Postscript by Peter Taylor, AMT Executive Director

  • I hope Ildar does not mentor the British team too strongly. We have an Ashes battle with them in July (at Cambridge, not Lords).
  • I should note that Ildar's teacher Peter is also father of dual AMC medallist Lisa Gotley, who is now a medical doctor.

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