Kurdish refugee turned Cambridge University math professor Caucher Birkar was among four winners Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro of the prestigious Fields prize, dubbed the Nobel for mathematics, but had his gold medal stolen minutes later.
It was an embarrassing debut for crime-ridden Rio, the first Latin American city ever to host the Fields ceremony, which takes place every four years.
Less than an hour had passed since Birkar, a 40-year-old specialist in algebraic geometry, had been handed his 14 karat gold medal when his briefcase went missing. The organizer behind the event, the International Congress of Mathematics, said it "profoundly regrets" the incident.
Birkar celebrated his achievement -- alongside co-winners Alessio Figalli, Peter Scholze and Akshay Venkatesh -- as a fairy tale come true for the often beleaguered Kurds. "I'm hoping this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people," he said.
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 preferably four people are honored each time.
In 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani, from Iran, became the award's first and so far only female winner. She died in 2017.