The Proof of a Fundamental Lemma Is Listed One of the TIME’s Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of 2009

Mathematicians always expect a fundamental lemma in Langlands Program proposed 30 years ago to be proven true. A Vietnamese professor Ngo Bao Chau, who currently works at Université Paris-Sud and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, formulated an ingenious proof of the lemma a couple of years ago. His work was checked this year and confirmed to be correct. Time Magazine announced this news on December 9 and listed its top 10 Scientific Discoveries of 2009.

The Fundamental Lemma, Solved

In 1979 the Canadian-American mathematician Robert Langlands developed an ambitious and revolutionary theory that connected two branches of mathematics called number theory and group theory. In a dazzling set of conjectures and insights, the theory captured deep symmetries associated with equations that involve whole numbers, laying out what is now known as the Langlands program. Langlands knew that the task of proving the assumptions that underlie his theory would be the work of generations. But he was convinced that one stepping stone that needed confirmation — dubbed the “fundamental lemma” — would be reasonably straightforward. He, his collaborators and his students were able to prove special cases of this fundamental theorem. But proving the general case proved more difficult than Langlands anticipated — so difficult, in fact, that it took 30 years to finally achieve. Over the past few years, Ngo Bao Chau, a Vietnamese mathematician working at Université Paris-Sud and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, formulated an ingenious proof of the fundamental lemma. When it was checked this year and confirmed to be correct, mathematicians around the globe breathed a sigh of relief. Mathematicians’ work in this area in the last three decades was predicated on the principle that the fundamental lemma was indeed accurate and would one day be proved. “It’s as if people were working on the far side of the river waiting for someone to throw this bridge across,” says Peter Sarnak, a number theorist at IAS. “And now all of sudden everyone’s work on the other side of the river has been proven.”
(See also:

Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of 2009


1. Our Oldest Ancestor, “Ardi”

2. The Human Epigenome, Decoded

3. Gene Therapy Cures Color Blindness

4. A Robot Performs Science

5. Breeding Tuna on Land

6. Water on the Moon

7. The Fundamental Lemma, Solved

8. Teleportation!

9. The Large Hadron Collider, Revived

10. A New Planet (or Brown Dwarf?) Discovered

Substack subscription form sign up
The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.