Shigefumi Mori will make history next January as the first Japanese person to become president of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), the world's largest organisation for mathematicians.
"At a time when the teaching of mathematics is spreading in developing countries, I'll use the experience and knowledge that I gained in an environment different from those in the United States and Europe, which are the centers of mathematical research," said Mori, 63.
Now a professor at Kyoto University, Mori said he got poor grades in math in primary school and had a hard time understanding a method to calculate the values of two unknown quantities from their sum total and the total of one of their attributes.
But he gained confidence when his cram school teacher and his parents praised him for solving an arithmetic problem in a way different from the textbook's solution.
Soon after Mori entered Kyoto University, his talent drew the attention of his professors. He solved a conundrum of algebraic geometry in his 20s, and in 1990 he was awarded the Fields Medal, which is often described as the Nobel Prize for mathematics, at the age of 39.
Upon receiving the award, Mori said there were fewer than 10 people in the world who could really understand his theory, a comment that drew much attention. But he didn't intend to brag about his talent.
"What I meant to say was there were few people who could understand the proof of my theory in detail," Mori said later. "I'm afraid I didn't explain myself clearly." This comment shows his modesty.
IMU presidents serve for four years. Mori will have more opportunities to take part in international events with his wife, Reiko, who supports her husband's dedication to research. She has often helped him expand his interactions with other people. "My wife's cooperation will become ever more important in the future," Mori said.
On holidays, the couple enjoy making gyoza dumplings and preparing together for the challenges ahead.