A mathematician from Kazakhstan thinks he has solved a problem that comes with a $1 million prize for the correct answer. But his proof poses a different problem to the mathematical community — it’s not in English.

We know what you’re thinking: isn’t math a universal language of numbers and symbols? In most cases, yes, but in instances when the written word too has to be applied, the default language for the community is English.

Mukhtarbay Otelbayev

Mukhtarbay Otelbayev, a mathematician from Kazakhstan, published a paper he says solves one of the world’s hardest math problems. (Image source: otelbaev.com)

New Scientist reported Mukhtarbay Otelbayev, a professor at the Eurasian National University’s department of methods of mathematical simulation, published a paper in the Mathematical Journal claiming to solve one of seven Millennium Prize problems, which were set by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000.

Otelbayev thinks he created a proof for the Navier-Stokes equations. Clay Mathematical Institute describes the equations as those that are believed to explain and predict fluid motion:

Waves follow our boat as we meander across the lake, and turbulent air currents follow our flight in a modern jet. Mathematicians and physicists believe that an explanation for and the prediction of both the breeze and the turbulence can be found through an understanding of solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations. Although these equations were written down in the 19th century, our understanding of them remains minimal. The challenge is to make substantial progress toward a mathematical theory, which will unlock the secrets hidden in the Navier-Stokes equations.

The current issue with Otelbayev‘s paper is that it’s written in Russian.

Mathematicians around the world are enlisting help to have the paper translated. A few have made some progress with colleagues but are still uncertain whether the proof is correct.

“While my grasp on the math is good enough to enable translation up to this point, I am not qualified to say anything about whether or not the solution is any good,” MIT scientist Misha Wolfson, who also speaks Russian, told New Scientist.

“What I have read so far does seem valid, but I don’t feel that I have yet got to the heart of the proof,” Stephen Montgomery-Smith working out of the University of Missouri’s math department told New Scientist.

Otelbayev said he is also having his students translate the paper, which he will post online once complete.

For a solution to be deemed valid per the competition’s rules, it must be published in “a refereed mathematics publication of worldwide repute” and be accepted for two years in the mathematics community. After that, the institute’s Scientific Advisory Board will consider it with expert opinion.

According to Kazakh TV, Otelbayev‘s proof, if correct, could help predict weather events like tornadoes and tsunamis. He also thinks solving the problem correctly could come with some societal implications.

“You’ve probably heard about the movie ‘Borat’. People in West think more or less of Kazakhstan in that way described in the movie. I wanted to break such opinion,” he told Kazakh TV.

Watch the report:

“If I win this prize, and this sum of money will in be my wife’s account because she knows how to manage money well,” Otelbayev told Kazakh TV. “I will not interfere in it. I have other work. Why should [I] worry about how to spend my money?”