Photo/IllutrationPapers written by Shinichi Mochizuki of Kyoto University's Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences that may be the proof for the ABC Conjecture have been posted to his website. (Tetsuya Ishikura)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A brainteaser concerning a number theory conjecture that has baffled the best minds since it was first proposed in 1985 may finally have been solved by a mathematician at Kyoto University.

If the proof offered by Shinichi Mochizuki holds up, experts say it would rank in equivalent importance to groundbreaking solutions to other protracted math problems, such as Fermat's Last Theorem, which was solved in 1995, and the Poincare Conjecture, which was resolved in 2006.

Mochizuki, 48, is based at Kyoto University's Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences (RIMS).

In August 2012, he posted four articles to prove what has been called "ABC Conjecture" because it deals with the relationship that arises when three positive integers referred to as a, b and c are such that the sum of a and b is c.

However, Mochizuki's work was so revolutionary that few fellow mathematicians could get their collective heads around the contents.

Two years after his online post, only a handful of fellow mathematicians had any real understanding of what he was getting at.

Study sessions were subsequently held in Britain and Kyoto at which Mochizuki tried to explain what was in his head. Input from those sessions led to revisions in his academic papers, which led to about 100 pages being added to the 500 or so already available.

Editors of the journal of RIMS have asked outside experts to peer review the articles for any problems, and a decision could be made to publish them in the widely respected journal as early as January. The journal is published four times a year.

Mochizuki has had a brilliant career, graduating from Princeton University in the United States when he was 19 and becoming a RIMS professor at 32.

He spent nearly 10 years working alone on what he calls "Inter-universal Teichmuller Theory," which combines elements of algebra with geometry, as one way of getting at the ABC Conjecture.

Mochizuki has shunned media interviews about his work, but other mathematicians are glowing in their praise for his new theory.

Ivan Fesenko, a mathematician at Britian's University of Nottingham who helped organize the study sessions on Mochizuki's work, called the papers pioneering and said they will fundamentally revolutionize number theory over the next few decades. Fesenko was also amazed that Mochizuki effectively put together his theory by working alone.

Nobushige Kurokawa, professor emeritus at the Tokyo Institute of Technology who has written books about the ABC Conjecture, said, "The methods Mochizuki used in his proof are innovative and groundbreaking. It will become a powerful tool for the future of mathematics."

If Mochizuki's theory is confirmed as proof of the ABC Conjecture, it could also be used to solve other math problems.