Visionary Turkish mathematician Ali Nesin became the third person ever to be awarded the Leelavati Prize this morning at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in Rio de Janeiro. The award, which recognises outstanding contribution to outreach in mathematics education honours Nesin’s mathematics village, which opened eleven years ago in a remote region more than 600 kilometers from Turkey’s capital.


Nesin’s Village of Mathematics’s settings are steeped in history, just a few kilometres away from ruins of the Greek and Byzantine eras in the towns of Şirince and Selçuk. But the initiative, which runs both short-and long-term math courses, open-air discussions and university summer camps, is creating a new legacy for the area, bringing it to international prominence.


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Offering a chance for students to engross themselves with learning, research and intellectual exchanges, a special committee of the International Mathematical Union (IMU) believes that the Nesin Village of Mathematics represents a milestone in increasing public engagement and interest in mathematics.


While Nesin, 60, was unable to attend the ceremony to receive his award in person, IMU President Shigefumi Mori praised the Villaeg for Mathematics as an “exceptional, peaceful place for education”. Nesin will instead receive the Leelavati Prize at a special ceremony at the ICM 2018, set to take place on August 8.


The son of eminent Turkish writer, comedian and satirist Aziz Nesin, Ali Nesin left behind a career as an associate professor at the University of California when his father asked him to take over the non-profit organization which he had started, the Nesin Foundation. The Foundation works to provide shelter for children at social and economic risk, providing housing and education until they complete university.


Upon returning to Turkey, Ali took up a position at the Mathematics Department of Bilgi University in Istanbul in 1995. In this transition, he noticed students’ difficulties, and realised that the Nesin Foundation could add something new to its repertoire: a way to offer summer courses for young students stepping into mathematics in university environments. By 2007, he had created the Village of Mathematics.


As word spread, demand for the Village of Mathematics courses grew. Now, it is open to any student captivated by mathematics, from primary school level to PhD. Approximately 1,000 pupils mill through the Village’s olive grove-strewn grounds every year, supported by volunteer teachers from around the world.


The awarding committee which chose Nesin for the prize was composed of mathematicians Gert-Martin Greuel, Shihoko Ishii, Andres Navas Flores, Sun Sook Noh and Sion Singh. More than recognition solely from the IMU, the Leelavanti Prize is a mark of appreciation from the international mathematics community. Sponsored by Infosys, it commends significant contributions to public outreach for mathematics education.