Microeconomic theory gets little attention. The public usually only hears about macro, tax or labor economics -- the things that affect day-to-day life. But deep within the stygian recesses of academia, bright mathematical minds are working on the economics of the next century.
One of these is Yuliy Sannikov, a professor at Princeton. Known throughout his life as a mathematical genius, Sannikov recently won the John Bates Clark Medal, a notable award given each year to a prominent economist under the age of 40. In recent years, that award has been given mostly to empirical researchers, reflecting econ's turn toward data-driven work. Sannikov is among the few who work with pure math and abstract concepts.
Since 2008, a lot of people have looked very unfavorably on purely mathematical economic theory. But in microeconomics, this kind of theorizing has been quite successful: It has enabled advances in online auctions, organ transplants and a number of other areas. This work is not as glamorous as the research done by people who claim to be able to explain recessions and unemployment, but by keeping a low profile, it is able to stay a lot more grounded in reality.