Although Mathematics has been around for centuries now, there are still many mathematical problems that require unique interventions, and solving them may just be your ticket to fame and fortune. Like in the case of the most unassuming Dr Neena Gupta, a professor from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, who became the youngest person ever to receive the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for solving the 70-yr-old puzzle Zariski Cancellation Problem.
The prize, announced every year on September 26th to celebrate the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR) Foundation Day, is given out to recognise a handful of scientists and researchers across many disciplines for having made outstanding contributions to science and technology in India.
Dr Neena, who won the award at 35, is not only the youngest, but also only the third woman to win the honour till date.
As per Research Matters, while in the later half of the 20th century and early 21st century, many eminent mathematicians have tried to work out a solution for the Zariski Cancellation Problem, this particular problem had remained open for about 70 years, before Dr. Neena came up with a complete solution to it in 2014.
The mathematician had stated in interviews that she was not someone who got full marks in maths, but is someone who loved to solve problems and spend hours doing maths.
Her love for math made her pursue a degree in Mathematics honours from Bethune College, Kolkata in 2016. She then went on to study Mathematics at the post-graduate level from ISI. After which, the mathematician entered the Indian academic ring with a PhD in Algebraic Geometry.
As an Associate Professor at the Theoretical Statistics and Mathematics Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute, she published her first research paper on the Zariski Cancellation Problem in 2014.
She also won the Indian National Science Academy–Young Scientist Award in the same year for her work on the Zariski Cancellation Problem.
In the last few years, Dr Neena has provided solutions to two open problems, one of which was posed by Oscar Zariski (1899-1986) - one of the founders of modern Algebraic Geometry.
Affine Algebraic Geometry, the research area of Dr. Neena, deals with the understanding of the properties of geometric objects that arise as solutions of systems of polynomial equations. Her natural strength being in Algebra, she approaches these problems using algebraic methods. Another field of her research is commutative algebra- which provides a base for a vast body of pure mathematics.
She describes these open mathematical conjectures as problems which can be easily explained to mathematicians but are very difficult to solve. The 'Zariski Cancellation Problem' has intrigued mathematicians around the globe, since a version of it was proposed by O. Zariski in 1949.
Another problem solved by Dr Neena was posed by Masayoshi Miyanishi, who is now revered as a father figure among the present affine algebraic geometers.
Dr Neena has won numerous awards and honours for her work in the past. Some of these include the Saraswathi Cowsik Medal from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 2013; the Swarnajayanti Fellowship by the Indian government, as well as the Ramanujan Prize from the University of Madras in 2014; she has also won the A.K. Agarwal Award for the best publication by the Indian Mathematical Society in 2015.
(Edited by Anju Narayanan)