He was born in Cape Town and educated at Cambridge University, where he studied under John Horton Conway. After receiving his doctorate he has held various positions at Cambridge and at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is currently a professor of mathematics.
Borcherds is best known for his work connecting the theory of finite groups with other areas in mathematics. In particular he invented the notion of vertex algebras, which he used to prove the Conway-Norton conjecture. This is related to representation theory of the monster group, a very large finite simple group whose structure was previously not well-understood. (See monstrous moonshine.) In recent years, Borcherds has been attempting to construct quantum field theory in a mathematically rigorous manner.
- "Borcherds, Gowers, Kontsevich, and McMullen Receive Fields Medals", Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 45, Number 10 (November 1998).
- James Lepowsky, "The Work of Richard Borcherds", Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 46, Number 1 (January 1999).
- Richard Borcherds, "What is ... The Monster?", Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 49, Number 9 (October 2002).
- Richard Borcherds' web site (has links to some relatively informal lecture notes describing his work)
- BBC News (1998): British academics win top maths awards