You may have missed this remarkable story because it took place in 2020, and we all had so many other things on our minds during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lisa Piccirillo is so talented that she solved a math problem known as the Conway knot.
Why is that a big deal? Did I mention it was proposed around 1970 by a British mathematician named, wait for it. . . John Conway? Did I mention not one single math genius could solve it for 50 years? Did I mention Stephen Hawking was alive during most of those years and didn’t solve it? Yes, that Stephen Hawking didn’t solve it. Did I mention Lisa solved it, in her spare time, in under a week? Did I mention John Conway couldn’t even solve his own problem? It has something to do with a knot and 13 slices. Now, this author was a psychology major and a mathematics minor in college, but I stared at the problem for a while, and I’m pretty sure I never would have solved it. Ever! I remember years ago when I tried to solve the Beale Ciphers, and I promise you I have never located that treasure. In more recent years, I tried to solve “The Secret” from that Expedition Unknown show with Josh Gates, but you haven’t seen me on television claiming any of the prizes, have you? Did I mention I like mysteries, but like Josh Gates, I never really solve any of them? Why don’t I have my own show? Okay, I have my own small local YouTube trivia channel, but hardly anybody watches it. I do have exactly 147 loyal subscribers.
Well anyway, MIT, yes that MIT, was so impressed it made Lisa an assistant professor! Did I mention she’s only 31 years old or something?
In all seriousness, this truly is an amazing story. There exist a lot of these unsolved math problems out there, and a few have been solved. However, this is indeed a remarkable set of circumstances. By the way, did I mention Lisa is also pretty good at horseback riding, and she plays a musical instrument too?
If you wish to hear an interview with Lisa, you can find one for free on YouTube at the “Talks at Google” channel. She seems nice and soft-spoken and humble, without bragging about her amazing accomplishment.
So take that Kardashians, Lisa Piccirillo is an American role model that women can actually look up to for her hard work and achievements. It will be exciting to see what other nascent discoveries she makes in the upcoming years.