Harald Helfgott ’98 has been awarded the Adams Prize by the University of Cambridge (UK), one of its oldest and most prestigious prizes. The prize, awarded jointly to Helfgott and to Dr. Tom Sanders (University of Cambridge), honors young UK-based mathematicians doing “first class international research in mathematical sciences”. Helfgott, currently a Reader at Univ. of Bristol and researcher at the CNRS/ENS (Paris), has been the recipient of additional prestigious prizes. In 2010 he was awarded the Whitehead Prize by the London Mathematical Society for his contributions to number theory and in 2008 he was awarded the Leverhulme Mathematics Prize for his work on number theory, diophantine geometry, and group theory.
Helfgott was a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science while at Brandeis, graduating summa cum laude with highest honors in both disciplines. Professors from both departments recall Harald as a top student, extremely well prepared, outspoken, and as one who truly loves to learn and exchange ideas. He took full advantage of the opportunities for independent research in both departments, resulting in several conference papers and publications. In Computer Science, working with James Storer completed significant research projects on genetic algorithms for lossless image compression, Lempel-Ziv methods for two dimensional lossless compression, predictive coding, and maximal parsings. He formulated an approach to two dimensional coding that equaled one of the best methods in the literature at the time and had a number of computational advantages. According to Storer “He had an impact on nearly every research group in the Computer Science Department at that time.”
Regarding Helfgott’s work in the Math department, Ira Gessel remembers:
Although I never had him for a course, I did write a paper with him when he was an undergraduate here (the only paper I’ve ever written with an undergraduate). Harald was involved in an undergraduate research program with Jim Propp on tilings, and he had made some progress on solving some open problems on counting certain types of tilings. He was having trouble evaluating some determinants, and I helped him with that technical aspect of his work. But the main ideas of the paper were all Harald’s.
On graduation, Helfgott chose to focus on mathematics, doing his Ph.D. at Princeton and post-doctoral stints at Yale and at Concordia University before moving to his current position at Bristol. In addition to his current active research career, Helfgott also has been “strongly committed to the free sharing of information in all areas of intellectual activity“, giving lecture series to students and young researchers in the Third World, including lecture series in India, Cuba, Bolivia, and his native Peru.
According to Gessel:
It’s difficult to give a nontechnical account of most of Harald’s work, but here’s one of his results that’s not too hard to state. He proved a difficult conjecture of Paul Erdős that if f(x) is a cubic polynomial with integer coefficients (satisfying some additional obvious necessary conditions that I’ll omit) then there are infinitely many primes p such that f(p) is not divisible by a square.