A Kurdish-Iranian refugee who became a Cambridge University professor was among four winners of the prestigious Fields prize for mathematics, but his gold medal was stolen minutes after he received it.
Caucher Birkar, a 40-year-old specialist in algebraic geometry, reported his briefcase missing less than an hour after he was handed his 14-karat gold medal on August 1 in Rio de Janeiro.
The International Congress of Mathematics, the organizer of the event that for mathematicians is like getting a Nobel Prize and takes place every four years, said it "profoundly regrets" the incident.
Birkar celebrated the award -- alongside co-winners Alessio Figalli, Peter Scholze, and Akshay Venkatesh -- as a dream come true for Kurds, a sometimes downtrodden minority group in Iran as well as Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.
"I'm hoping this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people," he said.
Born to a farming family in the ethnic Kurdish province of Marivan, near the Iran-Iraq border, Birkar said his hometown "was an unlikely place for a kid to develop an interest in mathematics."
After studying mathematics at Tehran University, the turmoil caused by the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s prompted Birkar to seek political asylum and citizenship in Britain, where he established himself as a prodigy in mathematics.
"I just couldn't imagine that this would come true," Birkar told Quanta Magazine.
The Fields Medal recognizes the outstanding mathematical achievements of candidates who were under 40 years old at the start of the year. At least two and as many as four people are honored each time.
In 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani, also from Iran, became the award's first and so far only female winner. She died in 2017.