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How Did You React When You Learned that Fermat's Last Theorem Had Been Solved? 

Frank H. Jump

"I was very skeptical. Absolutely. There's so much room for error with these proofs. I saw that documentary about Fermat and how Wiles had held back his findings because he wanted to be sure and right in the middle of proving it before a filled auditorium, one of his students stands up and says, "Uh, sir, that's false over there.' But it turned out to be some minor glitch. Didn't some guy commit suicide because he couldn't solve it, some Chinese guy? That's bizarre."

Steve Harris
Associate Professor of Mathematics, St. Louis U.

"It was the biggest math news for more than a century. I was flabbergasted. Algebraic number theory is very advanced, very deep. Integers seem to be God-given — ontological, independent of humans. There is no axiomatic system which defines the integers completely, because any axiomatic system admits of an undecidable statement. So, it was always a teasing notion that Fermat's theorem might conceivably be undecidable. But then it was proved, which was a relief, because now we know at least it's not undecidable."

Jeff Hartz
Art Dealer

"I was so taken aback by the impertinence of the thing that I decided then and there to quit doing algebraic number theory altogether."

Cleon Yohe
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Washington University

"Excited but tempered with healthy skepticism. I mean, when something hangs around for hundreds of years like that and all sorts of heavy guns fail to solve it, it's really an astonishing claim when somebody says they did it. I wanted to wait and see some other experts say, "Yeah, I agree — this guy Wiles really solved it.' And that happened, to my satisfaction."

Liangyue Zhang
Graduate Student, Mathematics Department, Washington University

"I was dubious, and I still doubt whether the proof is true, because it occupies over 100 pages, perhaps 200. Many people claimed to have proved it. But often, once it has been demonstrated, the so-called proof has been shown to be wrong, somewhere."

Pierre de Fermat was a lawyer and amateur mathematician who, in or around 1637, wrote to a fellow mathematician, "It is impossible to write a cube as a sum of two cubes ... and, in general, any power beyond the second as a sum of two similar powers. For this, I have found a wonderful proof, but the margin is too small to contain it." Few now believe Fermat had any such proof, for the theorem Xn + Yn = Zn has no solutions in positive integers for n greater than 2. Andrew Wiles, a math professor at Princeton University, found the first accepted proof in 1995, more than 350 years later.

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