Not many of us will get the chance to answer this question, but in 2010 Russian mathematician Grigoriy Perelman got his chance. Considered to be one of the world’s cleverest people, he was awarded the Clay Institutes $1,000,000 ‘Millennium Prize’ for his solution of the Poincaré Conjecture. But declined to accept it, stating “I’m not interested in money or fame. I’m not a hero of mathematics. I’m not even that successful.”
A million dollars for a mathematics problem? Actually, 7 million dollars for seven problems.
“The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts (CMI) established seven Prize Problems. The Prizes were conceived to record some of the most difficult problems with which mathematicians were grappling at the turn of the second millennium; to elevate in the consciousness of the general public the fact that in mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important unsolved problems; to emphasize the importance of working towards a solution of the deepest, most difficult problems; and to recognize achievement in mathematics of historical magnitude.” http://www.claymath.org
The prizes were announced at a meeting in Paris on 24th May 2000, and represent seven classic questions that have remained unsolved for many years. A correct solution to any one of them comes with a $1,000,000 prize and a place in history for the successful mathematician. If you want to try for yourself! The problems are;
Yang–Mills and Mass Gap Status: Unsolved
Riemann Hypothesis Status: Unsolved
P vs NP Problem Status: Unsolved
Navier–Stokes Equation Status: Unsolved
Hodge Conjecture Status: Unsolved
Poincaré Conjecture Status: Solved
Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture Status: Unsolved
This is not the only instance of cash prizes being offered for the solution of mathematics problems. In 1994 Andrew Wiles claimed the $50000 Wolfskehl prize for his solution of Fermats Last Theorem, and still to be claimed is the $1,000,000 prize for a proof of the Beal Conjecture. One thing all mathematicians agree on though – any cash prize is a very distant second to having your name etched into mathematical history forever!
Want to try something for yourself and get your name in the history books? You can take part in The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Number Search (GIMPS). All you need is a reasonably modern computer, some patience and an internet connection, and you could discover the next Mersenne Prime, and claim up to $50,000 for your work!