An Indian-born teenager has won a research award for solving a mathematical problem first posed by Sir Isaac Newton more than 300 years ago that has baffled mathematicians ever since.
The solution devised by Shouryya Ray, 16, makes it possible to calculate exactly the path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance.
Shouryya, who lives in Dresden, eastern Germany, came up with the solutions to this and a second mathematical riddle while working on a school project.
He is being hailed as a genius in the German press, but attributes his achievement to “curiosity and schoolboy naivety.”
“When it was explained to us that the problems had no solutions, I thought to myself: well, there’s no harm in trying,” he said.
The problems he resolved are from the field of dynamics. The first, dealing with the movement of projectiles through the air, was posed by Newton in the 17th century. The second, which relates to the collision of a body with a wall, was posed in the 19th century.
Only partial solutions had been discovered up to now, requiring simplified assumptions or calculations by computer. Shouryya’s elegant solutions could contribute to greater precision in fields such as ballistics.
A keen cricketer, Shouryya cites his father as his inspiration and says he instilled a “hunger for mathematics” after teaching him calculus at the age of six.