A Mathemagician in disguise: Dr. Manjul Bhargava

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Ishita Ankit

“With his immense insight and great technical mastery, Manjul Bhargava seems to bring a ‘Midas touch’ to everything he works on”

This was the press release in respect and honour of the great mathematician who has mesmerised the world with his number theory and approach to problem solving. Prof. Manjul Bhargava is a number theorist and Brandon R. Fradd Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University, New Jersey. He is one of the four recipients of this year’s Fields Medal, officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics.

In spite of being born in Canada and having spent most of his life in the U.S., Manjul enjoyed being brought up in an Indian home. He learnt Hindi and Sanskrit, read Indian literature, and became an ardent exponent of tabla. Indian food suited his palate immensely. During one of his interviews, he mentioned that growing up in two cultures allowed him to pick and choose from the best of both worlds. He values his Indian upbringing as being instrumental in shaping his personality.

Visits to India were easily among his most awaited tours. Every three or four years, he would take six months off his from school to spend them in India, mostly in his hometown Jaipur, with his grandparents. During his visits, he would further his taste in Hindustani Classical Music. He learnt tabla from his mom first, and then from Pandit Prem Prakash Sharma of Jaipur. Such is his fascination towards tabla that he still cherishes his meeting with Ustad Zakir Hussain, when he was an undergraduate at the Harvard University, as amongst his fondest memories.


Bhargava’s contribution to the field of mathematics has been honoured significantly. Among these awards, the most prestigious one is the Fields Medal. He is the second youngest full professor in the history of Princeton University, after Prof. Charles Fefferman. In addition to the above accolades, he has been awarded the Morgan Prize (1996), a Clay 5-year Research Fellowship, the Merten M. Hasse Prize from the MAA (2003), the Clay Research Award (2005), and the Leonard M. and Eleanor B. Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics (2005).

Dr. Bhargava’s field of interest revolves around the hyperelliptic curves. To this class belongs the Elliptic Curve, which turned out to be crucial in solving Fermat’s famous Last Theorem. In fact, the man who solved the Last Theorem in 1993, Dr. Andrew Wiles, was Bhargava’s PhD thesis advisor. They are used extensively in cryptography, the science, or as Bhargava fondly puts it, the art of making codes. Every time you do a credit card transaction online, your card number is encoded so that it doesn’t get stolen- and that process involves the elliptic curves. Bhargava once had this to say about these curves: “Intellectual stimulation, beautiful structure, applications - elliptic curves have it all”.

While awarding him the Fields Medal, the International Mathematical Union described him quite eloquently: “A mathematician of extraordinary creativity, he has a taste for simple problems of timeless beauty which he has solved by developing elegant and powerful new methods that offer deep insight. He surely will bring more delights and surprises to mathematics in the years to come”.

Success stories like these are sure to provide ample motivation and inspiration to the youth of the country, pushing them to accept bigger challenges and emerge as a real winner in life. For, as Kyle Chandler perfectly puts it: “Opportunity does not knock; it presents itself when you beat down the door!”