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Institut de mathématiques Clay

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   •  March 18, 2010     

Press contact:  James Carlson: jcarlson(à)claymath.org; 617-852-7490

See also the Clay Mathematics Institute website:

• The Poincaré conjecture and Dr. Perelmanʼs work: http://www.claymath.org/poincare

• The Millennium Prizes: http://www.claymath.org/millennium/

• Full text: http://www.claymath.org/poincare/millenniumprize.pdf

First Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize Announced Today

Prize for Resolution of the Poincaré Conjecture a

Awarded to Dr. Grigoriy Perelman

The Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI) announces today that Dr. Grigoriy Perelman of St. Petersburg, 

Russia, is the recipient of the Millennium Prize for resolution of the Poincaré conjecture.  The citation 

for the award reads:

The Clay Mathematics Institute hereby awards the Millennium Prize 

for resolution of the Poincaré conjecture to Grigoriy Perelman.

The Poincaré conjecture is one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems established by CMI in 

2000.  The Prizes were conceived to record some of the most difficult problems with which 

mathematicians were grappling at the turn of the second millennium; to elevate in the consciousness 

of the general public the fact that in mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important 

unsolved problems; to emphasize the importance of working towards a solution of the deepest, most 

difficult problems; and to recognize achievement in mathematics of historical magnitude.

The award of the Millennium Prize to Dr. Perelman was made in accord with their governing rules: 

recommendation first by a Special Advisory Committee (Simon Donaldson, David Gabai, Mikhail 

Gromov, Terence Tao, and Andrew Wiles), then by the CMI Scientific Advisory Board (James 

Carlson, Simon Donaldson, Gregory Margulis, Richard Melrose, Yum-Tong Siu, and Andrew Wiles), 

with final decision by the Board of Directors (Landon T. Clay, Lavinia D. Clay, and Thomas M. Clay).

James Carlson, President of CMI, said today that "resolution of the Poincaré conjecture by Grigoriy 

Perelman brings to a close the century-long quest for the solution. It is a major advance in the 

history of mathematics that will long be remembered." Carlson went on to announce that CMI and 

the Institut Henri Poincaré (IHP) will hold a conference to celebrate the Poincaré conjecture and its 

resolution June 8 and 9 in Paris.  The program will be posted on www.claymath.org.  In addition, on 

June 7, there will be a press briefing and public lecture by Etienne Ghys at the Institut 

Océanographique, near the IHP.

Reached at his office at Imperial College, London for his reaction, Fields Medalist Dr. Simon 

Donaldson said, "I feel that Poincaré would have been very satisfied to know both about the 

profound influence his conjecture has had on the development of topology over the last century and 

the surprising way in which the problem was solved, making essential use of partial differential 

equations and differential geometry.

Poincaré's conjecture and Perelman's proof

Formulated in 1904 by the French mathematician Henri Poincaré, the conjecture is fundamental to 

achieving an understanding of three-dimensional shapes (compact manifolds). The simplest of 

- 1 -these shapes is the three-dimensional sphere. It is contained in four-dimensional space, and is 

defined as the set of points at a fixed distance from a given point, just as the two-dimensional sphere 

(skin of an orange or surface of the earth) is defined as the set of points in three-dimensional space 

at a fixed distance from a given point (the center).

Since we cannot directly visualize objects in n-dimensional space, Poincaré asked whether there is a 

test for recognizing when a shape is the three-sphere by performing measurements and other 

operations inside the shape. The goal was to recognize all three-spheres even though they may be 

highly distorted. Poincaré found the right test (simple connectivity, see below). However, no one 

before Perelman was able to show that the test guaranteed that the given shape was in fact a threesphere.

In the last century, there were many attempts to prove, and also to disprove, the Poincaré conjecture  

using the methods of topology. Around 1982, however, a new line of attack was opened.  This was 

the Ricci flow method pioneered and developed by Richard Hamilton.  It was based on a differential 

equation related to the one introduced by Joseph Fourier 160 years earlier to study the conduction of 

heat.  With the Ricci flow equation, Hamilton obtained a series of spectacular results in geometry.

However, progress in applying it to the conjecture eventually came to a standstill, largely because 

formation of singularities, akin to formation of black holes in the evolution of the cosmos, defied 

mathematical understanding.

Perelman's breakthrough proof of the Poincaré conjecture was made possible by a number of new 

elements.  He achieved a complete understanding of singularity formation in Ricci flow, as well as 

the  way parts of the shape collapse onto lower-dimensional spaces. He introduced a new quantity, 

the entropy, which instead of measuring disorder at the atomic level, as in the classical theory of 

heat exchange, measures disorder in the global geometry of the space.  This new entropy, like the 

thermodynamic quantity, increases as time passes.  Perelman also introduced a related local 

quantity, the L-functional, and he used the theories originated by Cheeger and Aleksandrov to 

understand limits of spaces changing under Ricci flow.  He showed that the time between formation 

of singularities could not become smaller and smaller, with singularities becoming spaced so closely 

– infinitesimally close – that the Ricci flow method would no longer apply.  Perelman deployed his 

new ideas and methods with great technical mastery and described the results he obtained with 

elegant brevity.  Mathematics has been deeply enriched.

Some other reactions

Fields medalist Stephen Smale, who solved the analogue of the Poincaré conjecture for spheres of 

dimension five or more, commented that: "Fifty years ago I was working on Poincaré's conjecture 

and thus hold a long-standing appreciation for this beautiful and difficult problem. The final solution 

by Grigoriy Perelman is a great event in the history of mathematics."

Donal O'Shea, Professor of Mathematics at Mt. Holyoke College and author of The Poincaré 

Conjecture, noted: "Poincaré altered twentieth-century mathematics by teaching us how to 

think about the idealized shapes that model our cosmos.  It is very satisfying and deeply inspiring 

that Perelman's unexpected solution to the Poincaré conjecture, arguably the most basic question 

about such shapes, offers to do the same for the coming century.


In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the French mathematician Henri Poincaré was studying 

the problem of whether the solar system is stable. Do the planets and asteroids in the solar system 

continue in regular orbits for all time, or will some of them be ejected into the far reaches of the 

galaxy or, alternatively, crash into the sun? In this work he was led to topology, a still new kind of 

mathematics related to geometry, and to the study of shapes (compact manifolds) of all dimensions. 

The simplest such shape was the circle, or distorted versions of it such as the ellipse or something 

much wilder: lay a piece of string on the table, tie one end to the other to make a loop, and then 

move it around at random, making sure that the string does not touch itself. The next simplest shape 

is the two-sphere, which we find in nature as the idealized skin of an orange, the surface of a 

baseball, or the surface of the earth, and which we find in Greek geometry and philosophy as the 

"perfect shape." Again, there are distorted versions of the shape, such as the surface of an egg, as 

well as still wilder objects. Both the circle and the two-sphere can be described in words or in 

equations as the set of points at a fixed distance from a given point (the center). Thus it makes 

sense to talk about the three-sphere, the four-sphere, etc. These shapes are hard to visualize, since 

they naturally are contained in four-dimensional space, five-dimensional space, and so on, whereas 

we live in three-dimensional space. Nonetheless, with mathematical training, shapes in higherdimensional spaces can be studied just as well as shapes in dimensions two and three.

In topology, two shapes are considered the same if the points of one correspond to the points of 

another in a continuous way. Thus the circle, the ellipse, and the wild piece of string are considered 

the same. This is much like what happens in the geometry of Euclid. Suppose that one shape can 

be moved, without changing lengths or angles, onto another shape.  Then the two shapes are 

considered the same (think of congruent triangles). A round, perfect two-sphere, like the surface of a 

ping-pong ball, is topologically the same as the surface of an egg. 

In 1904 Poincaré asked whether a three-dimensional shape that satisfies the "simple connectivity 

test" is the same, topologically, as the ordinary round three-sphere.  The round three-sphere is the 

set of points equidistant from a given point in four-dimensional space. His test is something that can 

be performed by an imaginary being who lives inside the three-dimensional shape and cannot see it 

from "outside." The test is that every loop in the shape can be drawn back to the point of departure 

without leaving the shape. This can be done for the two-sphere and the three-sphere.  But it cannot 

be done for the surface of a doughnut, where a loop may get stuck around the hole in the doughnut.

The question raised became known as the Poincaré conjecture. Over the years, many outstanding 

mathematicians tried to solve it—Poincaré himself, Whitehead, Bing, Papakirioukopolos, Stallings, 

and others. While their efforts frequently led to the creation of significant new mathematics, each 

time a flaw was found in the proof.  In 1961 came astonishing news. Stephen Smale, then of the 

University of California at Berkeley (now at the City University of Hong Kong) proved that the 

analogue of the Poincaré conjecture was true for spheres of five or more dimensions. The higherdimensional version of the conjecture required a more stringent version of Poincaré's test; it asks 

whether a so-called homotopy sphere is a true sphere. Smale's theorem was an achievement of 

extraordinary proportions. It did not, however, answer Poincaré's original question. The search for 

an answer became all the more alluring.

Smale's theorem suggested that the theory of spheres of dimensions three and four was unlike the 

theory of spheres in higher dimension. This notion was confirmed a decade later, when Michael 

Freedman, then at the University of California, San Diego, now of Microsoft Research Station Q, 

announced a proof of the Poincaré conjecture in dimension four.  His work used techniques quite 

different from those of Smale. Freedman also gave a classification, or kind of species list, of all 

simply connected four-dimensional manifolds. 

- 3 -Both Smale (in 1966) and Freedman (in 1986) received Fields medals for their work.

There remained the original conjecture of Poincaré in dimension three. It seemed to be the most 

difficult of all, as the continuing series of failed efforts, both to prove and to disprove it, showed.  In 

the meantime, however, there came three developments that would play crucial roles in Perelman's 

solution of the conjecture.  


The first of these developments was William Thurston's geometrization conjecture. It laid out a 

program for understanding all three-dimensional shapes in a coherent way, much as had been done 

for two-dimensional shapes in the latter half of the nineteenth century. According to Thurston, threedimensional shapes could be broken down into pieces governed by one of eight geometries, 

somewhat as a molecule can be broken into its constituent, much simpler atoms.  This is the origin 

of the name, "geometrization conjecture."

A remarkable feature of the geometrization conjecture was that it implied the Poincaré conjecture as 

a special case.  Such a bold assertion was accordingly thought to be far, far out of reach—perhaps a 

subject of research for the twenty-second century.  Nonetheless, in an imaginative tour de force that 

drew on many fields of mathematics, Thurston was able to prove the geometrization conjecture for a 

wide class of shapes (Haken manifolds) that have a sufficient degree of complexity. While these 

methods did not apply to the three-sphere, Thurston's work shed new light on the central role of 

Poincaré's conjecture and placed it in a far broader mathematical context.

Limits of spaces

The second current of ideas did not appear to have a connection with the Poincaré conjecture until 

much later. While technical in nature, the work, in which the names of Cheeger and Perelman figure 

prominently, has to do with how one can take limits of geometric shapes, just as we learned to take 

limits in beginning calculus class. Think of Zeno and his paradox: you walk half the distance from 

where you are standing to the wall of your living room. Then you walk half the remaining distance.

And so on. With each step you get closer to the wall. The wall is your "limiting position," but you 

never reach it in a finite number of steps. Now imagine a shape changing with time. With each 

"step" it changes shape, but can nonetheless be a "nice" shape at each step— smooth, as the 

mathematicians say. For the limiting shape the situation is different. It may be nice and smooth, or it 

may have special points that are different from all the others, that is, singular points, or 

“singularities.” Imagine a Y-shaped piece of tubing that is collapsing: as time increases, the diameter 

of the tube gets smaller and smaller. Imagine further that one second after the tube begins its 

collapse, the diameter has gone to zero. Now the shape is different: it is a Y shape of infinitely thin 

wire. The point where the arms of the Y meet is different from all the others. It is the singular point 

of this shape. The kinds of shapes that can occur as limits are called Aleksandrov spaces, named 

after the Russian mathematician A. D. Aleksandrov who initiated and developed their theory.

Differential equations

The third development concerns differential equations. These equations involve rates of change in 

the unknown quantities of the equation, e.g., the rate of change of the position of an apple as it falls 

from a tree towards the earth's center. Differential equations are expressed in the language of 

calculus, which Isaac Newton invented in the 1680s in order to explain how material bodies (apples, 

the moon, and so on) move under the influence of an external force. Nowadays physicists use 

- 4 -differential equations to study a great range of phenomena: the motion of galaxies and the stars 

within them, the flow of air and water, the propagation of sound and light, the conduction of heat, 

and even the creation, interaction, and annihilation of elementary particles such as electrons, 

protons, and quarks.  

In our story, conduction of heat and change of temperature play a special role. This kind of physics 

was first treated mathematically by Joseph Fourier in his 1822 book, Théorie Analytique de la 

Chaleur. The differential equation that governs change of temperature is called the heat equation. It 

has the remarkable property that as time increases, irregularities in the distribution of temperature 


Differential equations apply to geometric and topological problems as well as to physical ones. But 

one studies not the rate at which temperature changes, but rather the rate of change in some 

geometric quantity as it relates to other quantities such as curvature. A piece of paper lying on the 

table has curvature zero. A sphere has positive curvature. The curvature is a large number for a 

small sphere, but is a small number for a large sphere such as the surface of the earth. Indeed, the 

curvature of the earth is so small that its surface has sometimes mistakenly been thought to be flat.

For an example of negative curvature, think of a point on the bell of a trumpet. In some directions 

the metal bends away from your eye; in others it bends towards it.

An early landmark in the application of differential equations to geometric problems was the 1963 

paper of J. Eells and J. Sampson. The authors introduced the "harmonic map equation," a kind of 

nonlinear version of Fourier's heat equation. It proved to be a powerful tool for the solution of 

geometric and topological problems. There are now many important nonlinear heat equations—the 

equations for mean curvature flow, scalar curvature flow, and Ricci flow. 

Also notable is the Yang-Mills equation, which came into mathematics from the physics of quantum 

fields. In 1983 this equation was used to establish very strong restrictions on the topology of fourdimensional shapes on which it was possible to do calculus [D]. These results helped renew hopes 

of obtaining other strong geometric results from analytic arguments—that is, from calculus and 

differential equations. Optimism for such applications had been tempered to some extent by the 

examples of René Thom (on cycles not representable by smooth submanifolds) and Milnor (on 

diffeomorphisms of the six-sphere).

Ricci flow

The differential equation that was to play a key role in solving the Poincaré conjecture is the Ricci 

flow equation. It was discovered two times, independently.  In physics, the equation originated with 

the thesis of Friedan [F, 1985], although it was perhaps implicit in the work of Honerkamp [Ho, 1972].  

In mathematics it originated with the 1982 paper of Richard Hamilton [Ha1].  The physicists were 

working on the renormalization group of quantum field theory, while Hamilton was interested in 

geometric applications of the Ricci flow equation itself. Hamilton, now at Columbia University, was 

then at Cornell University. 

On the left-hand side of the Ricci flow equation is a quantity that expresses how the geometry 

changes with time—the derivative of the metric tensor, as the mathematicians like to say. On the 

right-hand side is the Ricci tensor, a measure of the extent to which the shape is curved. The Ricci 

tensor, based on Riemann's theory of geometry (1854), also appears in Einstein's equations for 

general relativity (1915). Those equations govern the interaction of matter, energy, curvature of 

space, and the motion of material bodies.  

The Ricci flow equation is the analogue, in the geometric context, of Fourier's heat equation. The 

idea, grosso modo, for its application to geometry is that, just as Fourier's heat equation disperses 

temperature, the Ricci flow equation disperses curvature. Thus, even if a shape was irregular and 

- 5 -distorted, Ricci flow would gradually remove these anomalies, resulting in a very regular shape 

whose topological nature was evident. Indeed, in 1982 Hamilton showed that for positively curved, 

simply connected shapes of dimension three (compact three-manifolds) the Ricci flow transforms the 

shape into one that is ever more like the round three-sphere. In the long run, it becomes almost 

indistinguishable from this perfect, ideal shape.  When the curvature is not strictly positive, however, 

solutions of the Ricci flow equation behave in a much more complicated way.  This is because the 

equation is nonlinear.   While parts of the shape may evolve towards a smoother, more regular state, 

other parts might develop singularities.  This richer behavior posed serious difficulties.  But it also 

held promise: it was conceivable that the formation of singularities could reveal Thurston's 

decomposition of a shape into its constituent geometric atoms.

Richard Hamilton

Hamilton was the driving force in developing the theory of Ricci flow in mathematics, both 

conceptually and technically. Among his many notable results is his 1999 paper [Ha2], which 

showed that in a Ricci flow, the curvature is pushed towards the positive near a singularity. In that 

paper Hamilton also made use of the collapsing theory [C-G] mentioned earlier.  Another result 

[Ha3], which played a crucial role in Perelman's proof, was the Hamilton Harnack inequality, which 

generalized to positive Ricci flows a result of Peter Li and Shing-Tung Yau for positive solutions of 

Fourier's heat equation.

Hamilton had established the Ricci flow equation as a tool with the potential to resolve both 

conjectures as well as other geometric problems.  Nevertheless, serious obstacles barred the way to 

a proof of the Poincaré conjecture.  Notable among these obstacles was lack of an adequate 

understanding of the formation of singularities in Ricci flow, akin to the formation of black holes in the 

evolution of the cosmos.  Indeed, it was not at all clear how or if formation of singularities could be 

understood.  Despite the new front opened by Hamilton, and despite continued work by others using 

traditional topological tools for either a proof or a disproof, progress on the conjectures came to a 


Such was the state of affairs in 2000, when John Milnor wrote an article describing the Poincaré 

conjecture and the many attempts to solve it.  At that writing, it was not clear whether the conjecture 

was true or false, and it was not clear which method might decide the issue. Analytic methods 

(differential equations) were mentioned in a later version (2004). See [M1] and [M2].

Perelman announces a solution of the Poincaré conjecture

It was thus a huge surprise when Grigoriy Perelman announced, in a series of preprints posted on 

ArXiv.org in 2002 and 2003, a solution not only of the Poincaré conjecture, but also of Thurston's 

geometrization conjecture [P1, P2, P3].

The core of Perelman's method of proof is the theory of Ricci flow. To its applications in topology he 

brought not only great technical virtuosity, but also new ideas. One was to combine collapsing 

theory in Riemannian geometry with Ricci flow to give an understanding of the parts of the shape 

that were collapsing onto a lower-dimensional space. Another was the introduction of a new 

quantity, the entropy, which instead of measuring disorder at the atomic level, as in the classical 

theory of heat exchange, measures disorder in the global geometry of the space.  Perelmanʼs 

entropy, like the thermodynamic entropy, is increasing in time:  there is no turning back.  Using his 

entropy function and a related local version (the L-length functional), Perelman was able to 

understand the nature of the singularities that formed under Ricci flow. There were just a few kinds, 

and one could write down simple models of their formation. This was a breakthrough of first 


- 6 -Once the simple models of singularities were understood, it was clear how to cut out the parts of the 

shape near them as to continue the Ricci flow past the times at which they would otherwise form.

With these results in hand, Perelman showed that the formation times of the singularities could not 

run into Zeno's wall: imagine a singularity that occurs after one second, then after half a second 

more, then after a quarter of a second more, and so on. If this were to occur, the "wall," which one 

would reach two seconds after departure, would correspond to a time at which the mathematics of 

Ricci flow would cease to hold. The proof would be unattainable. But with this new mathematics in 

hand, attainable it was.

The posting of Perelman's preprints and his subsequent talks at MIT, SUNY–Stony Brook, Princeton, 

and the University of Pennsylvania set off a worldwide effort to understand and verify his 

groundbreaking work. In the US, Bruce Kleiner and John Lott wrote a set of detailed notes on 

Perelman's work.  These were posted online as the verification effort proceeded.  A final version was 

posted to ArXiv.org in May 2006, and the refereed article appeared in Geometry and Topology in 

2008.  This was the first time that work on a problem of such importance was facilitated via a public 

website. John Morgan and Gang Tian wrote a book-long exposition of Perelman's proof, posted on 

ArXiv.org in July of 2006, and published by the American Mathematical Society in CMI's monograph 

series (August 2007). These expositions, those by other teams, and, importantly, the multi-year 

scrutiny of the mathematical community, provided the needed verification. Perelman had solved the 

Poincaré conjecture. After a century's wait, it was settled!

Among other articles that appeared following Perelman's work is a paper in the Asian Journal of 

Mathematics, posted on ArXiv.org in June of 2006 by the American-Chinese team, Huai-Dong Cao 

(Lehigh University) and Xi-Ping Zhu (Zhongshan University). Another is a paper by the European 

group of Bessières, Besson, Boileau, Maillot, and Porti, posted on ArXiv.org in June of 2007. It was 

accepted for publication by Inventiones Mathematicae in October of 2009. It gives an alternative 

approach to the last step in Perelman's proof of the geometrization conjecture.

Perelman's proof of the Poincaré and geometrization conjectures is a major mathematical advance.

His ideas and methods have already found new applications in analysis and geometry; surely the 

future will bring many more.         

— JC, March 18, 2010## # # # # # #      (corrections, 3/19/2010)

# # # # # #

# # # # # # # # # # # # #

# # # # # # # # #


[C-G] J. Cheeger and M. Gromov, Collapsing Riemannian manifolds while keeping their curvature bounded. I 

and II, J. Differential Geom. Volume 23, Number 3 (1986); Volume 32, Number 1 (1990), 269-298.

[D] S.K. Donaldson. An application of gauge theory to four-dimensional topology. J. Differential Geom., 18, 

(1983), 279–315.

[F] D. Friedan, Nonlinear Models in 2 + epsilon Dimensions, Annals of Physics 163, 318-419 (1985)

[Ha1] R. Hamilton, Three-manifolds with positive Ricci curvature, Journal of Differential Geometry, vol. 

17:255-306 (1982)

[Ha2] R. Hamilton, Non-singular solutions of the Ricci flow on three-manifolds, Comm. Anal. Geom. 7(4): 

695-729 (1999)

[Ha3] R. Hamilton, The Harnack estimate for Ricci flow, Journal of Differential Geometry, vol. 37:225-243 


- 7 -[Ho] J. Honerkamp, (CERN), Chiral multiloops, Nucl. Phys. B36:130-140 (1972)

[M1] J. Milnor, The Poincaré Conjecture (2000) www.claymath.org/millennium/Poincare_Conjecture/


[M2] J. Milnor, The Poincaré Conjecture, in The Millennium Prize Problems, J. Carlson, A. Jaffe, A. Wiles, eds, 

AMS (2004) www.claymath.org/millennium/Poincare_Conjecture/poincare.pdf

[P1] G. Perelman, The entropy formula for the Ricci flow and its geometric applications, arXiv.org, November 

11, 2002

[P2] G. Perelman, Ricci flow with surgery on three-manifolds, arXiv.org, March 10, 2003

[P3] G. Perelman, Finite extinction time for the solutions to the Ricci flow on certain three-manifolds, arXiv.org, 

July 17, 2003


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