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Richard Borcherds

Born 29 November 1959 (1959-11-29) (age 50)
Cape Town, South Africa
Residence U.K., U.S.
Nationality British[1]
Fields Mathematician
Institutions University of California, Berkeley, University of Cambridge
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Doctoral advisor John Horton Conway
Known for Lattices, number theory, group theory
Notable awards Fields Medal (1998)

Richard Ewen Borcherds (born 29 November, 1959) is a British mathematician specializing in lattices, number theory, group theory, and infinite-dimensional algebras. He was awarded the Fields Medal in 1998.


Personal life

Borcherds was born in Cape Town, but the family moved to Birmingham in the United Kingdom when he was six months old.[2] His father is a physicist and he has three brothers, two of whom are mathematics teachers.[3] He was a promising mathematician and chess player as a child, winning several national mathematics championships and "was in line for becoming a chess master" before giving up after realising that the higher levels of competitive chess are merely about the competition rather than the fun of playing.[3] He was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham and Cambridge University, where he studied under John Horton Conway.[4] After receiving his doctorate in 1985 he has held various alternating positions at Cambridge and the University of California, Berkeley, serving as Morrey Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Berkeley from 1987 to 1988.[5] From 1996 he held a Royal Society Research Professorship at Cambridge before returning to Berkeley in 1999 as Professor of mathematics.[5]

An interview with Simon Singh for the Guardian, in which Borcherds suggested he might have some traits associated with Asperger syndrome,[2] subsequently led to a chapter about him in a book on autism by Simon Baron-Cohen.[6][7] Baron-Cohen concluded that while Borcherds had many autistic traits, he did not merit a formal diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.[6]


Borcherds is best known for his work connecting the theory of finite groups with other areas in mathematics. In particular he invented the notion of vertex algebras, which Igor Frenkel, James Lepowsky and Arne Meurman used to construct an infinite-dimensional graded algebra acted on by the monster group. Borcherds then used this, and methods from string theory, to prove the monstrous moonshine conjecture by Conway and Norton, relating the monster group to the coefficients of the q-expansion of the j invariant. The result was not only a great increase in understanding of the monster group, a very large finite simple group whose structure was previously not well understood, but tied the monster to various aspects of mathematics and mathematical physics. In recent years, Borcherds has been attempting to construct quantum field theory in a mathematically rigorous manner.


In 1992 he was one of the first recipients of the EMS prizes awarded at the first European Congress of Mathematics in Paris, and in 1994 he was an Invited Speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich.[4] In 1998 at the 23rd International Congress of Mathematicians in Berlin, Germany he received the Fields Medal together with Maxim Kontsevich, William Timothy Gowers and Curtis T. McMullen.[4] The award cited him "for his contributions to algebra, the theory of automorphic forms, and mathematical physics, including the introduction of vertex algebras and Borcherds' Lie algebras, the proof of the Conway-Norton moonshine conjecture and the discovery of a new class of automorphic infinite products."


  1. ^ Goddard, Peter (1998), The work of Richard Ewen Borcherds, "Proceedings of the International Congress of Mathematicians, Vol. I (Berlin, 1998)", Documenta Mathematica: 99–108, arΧiv:math/9808136, ISSN 1431-0635,  .
  2. ^ a b Simon Singh, "Interview with Richard Borcherds", The Guardian (28 August 1998)
  3. ^ a b Baron-Cohen, Simon. "A Professor of Mathematics". pp. 161. Retrieved 2009-01-18.  
  4. ^ a b c "Borcherds, Gowers, Kontsevich, and McMullen Receive Fields Medals". Notices of the American Mathematical Society (American Mathematical Society) 45 (10).  
  5. ^ a b "UC Berkeley professor wins highest honor in mathematics, the prestigious Fields Medal". University of California, Berkeley. 19 August 1998. Retrieved 2009-07-22.  
  6. ^ a b Baron-Cohen, Simon (2004), The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00556-X  . Chapter 11, "A Professor of Mathematics" (see external links) records conversations with Richard Borcherds and his family.
  7. ^ High flying obsessives, The Guardian, December 2000


  • Conway and Sloane, Sphere Packings, Lattices, and Groups, Third Edition, Springer, 1998 ISBN 0-387-98585-9.
  • Frenkel, Lepowsky and Meurman, Vertex Operator Algebras and the Monster, Academic Press, 1988 ISBN 0-12-267065-5.
  • Kac, Victor, Vertex Algebras for Beginners, Second Edition, AMS 1997 ISBN 0-8218-0643-2.

External links



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