For nearly two centuries now, the Riemann hypothesis has haunted mathematicians around the world. Despite the community’s best efforts (and countless false alarms), it seems that no one has ever been able to come up with a legitimate answer. That is, until now.

Leave It To The Pros

This week, mathematician Sir Michael Francis Atiyah gave a lecture in which he explained what he believed to be proof of the Riemann hypothesis. While most past contenders have just been young math whizzes hoping to establish their careers, such is not the case this time.

Quanta Magazine / Philipp Ammon

Atiyah is a now-retired, established expert in the field, giving his claim a new level of credibility. If his theory proves to be true, he could be looking at up to $1 million in prize money.

A Centuries-Old Problem

The Riemann hypothesis got its name from the German mathematician Bernhard Riemann, who in 1859 conceptualized of an equation that might accurately process a complex number and produce a real solution. The result would be a function that could predict the distribution of all prime numbers.

 The Famous People

“Nobody believes any proof of the Riemann hypothesis because it is so difficult,” Atiyah said of the theory’s complexity. “Nobody has proved it, so why should anybody prove it now? Unless, of course, you have a totally new idea.”

But Nothing Is Set In Stone

As it stands, experts in the field still don’t know enough to determine whether Atiyah’s proof is valid.

James Glossop/The Times/News Syndication

“At the moment, we don’t really know enough of the details of Atiyah’s work to really make an informed decision,” said fellow mathematician Nicholas Jackson. “So I think it’s natural that the default position be a skeptical one. Mathematics relies entirely on rigorous, formal proof. Every step in the argument must be secure and robust; otherwise, the whole thing falls apart.”