World's most prestigious maths medal is stolen minutes after professor wins it

A medal regarded as the most prestigious in the world of mathematics has been stolen from a Cambridge professor just half an hour after he was awarded the prize in Rio de Janeiro.

Caucher Birkar was one of four joint winners of the Fields medal – regarded as the Nobel prize for maths – who were given the award at the International Congress of Mathematics on Wednesday

But within minutes, the award was stolen. The G1 news site said Birkar had left the medal in a folder with his cellphone and wallet on top of a table in the pavilion where the event was being held.

The event’s security team later found the folder under a bench, but the medal was missing.

Rio’s O Globo newspaper said the thief had already been identified from security camera footage.

Organisers lamented the theft in a statement. “The organizing committee of the International Congress of Mathematics profoundly regrets the disappearance of the briefcase of mathematician Cauchar Birkar, which contained the Fields medal he received at this morning’s ceremony,” they said. “Images recorded at the event are being analysed. The organising committee is cooperating with local police authorities in their investigation.”

Alessio Figalli, one of the four winners, shows his Fields medal during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on 1 August.

Alessio Figalli, one of the four winners, shows his Fields medal during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on 1 August. Photograph: Silvia Izquierdo/AP

The congress is being held at Riocentro, a convention centre on the western edges of Rio – a city struggling with soaring crime rates.

Birkar was born in Iran and moved to the UK as a refugee two decades ago. The Fields medal was first awarded in 1936 and since 1950 is presented every four years to up to four mathematicians under 40.

Wednesday’s theft was not the first problem the event has faced. On Sunday night a fire broke out at the pavilion hosting it when a fire ballon landed on it, causing the overnight team to evacuate.

“The roof caught fire,” one of the workers told the Guardian. “We tried to contain it inside but there was no way. The whole roof caught fire. We had to evacuate the area, and we had to move to another pavilion. Everything we had set up we had to mount again.”


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