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One of the most prestigious prizes in mathematics, the Fields Medal, has been handed out at a ceremony in Brazil.

Caucher Birkar, Alessio Figalli and Peter Scholze, and Akshay Venkatesh are all honoured for major contributions to their respective areas in mathematics.

Professor Birkar, a Kurd, came to the UK as a while studying in Tehran and applied for asylum.

The University of Cambridge mathematician said he “couldn’t imagine that this would come true”.

However, it emerged that the 14-carat gold medal given to Dr Birkar at the ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, had been stolen just minutes later.

According to Brazil’s TV Globo, he left the medal along with his wallet and phone in a briefcase on a table at the convention centre where the event was taking place.

He alerted security staff when he noticed the case was missing and they later found the case, but the medal and wallet were not there.

Caucher Birkar was born on a farm in Kurdistan Province, near the Iran-Iraq border, and was raised during the eight-year war between the two neighbouring countries that broke out in 1980.

He told Quanta magazine that while growing up, his maths club in Tehran had pictures of Fields Medal winners lining the walls.

“I looked at them and said to myself, ‘Will I ever meet one of these people?’ At that time in Iran, I couldn’t even know that I’d be able to go to the West,” he said.

While studying for his undergraduate degree at the University of Tehran, he travelled to the UK and sought political asylum there.

He established a reputation within academia with his work on birational geometry and has previously won the prestigious Leverhulme Prize.

The Fields Medals are awarded every four years to the most promising mathematicians under the age of 40.

Each winner receives a 15,000 Canadian-dollar cash prize.

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