On a Wednesday evening in November 2016, Princeton mathematician Manjul Bhargava greeted a packed audience while holding a gigantic deck of cards, its dimensions equalling that of a stack of magazines. “Much of what magicians do is math, as well as sleight of hand,” said Bhargava, as he began his talk for students that night at the Fields Institute, an international hub for math research based at the University of Toronto. Two grade schoolers, Artash Nath and his sister Arushi (then ten and seven), sitting near the back, were excited to see those big cards and to find out where Bhargava’s magic would lead. As the talk progressed, Artash snuck up toward the middle of the room while Arushi stood on her chair, keen to get a better view of the action.

Bhargava was in Toronto for the annual Fields Medal Symposium, held that fall in his honour. In 2014, at the age of forty, he became the first Canadian to win the Fields Medal—the so-called Nobel Prize of math—for his profound influence on the field of number theory. The citation noted his “taste for simple problems of timeless beauty which he has solved by developing elegant and powerful new methods.”