Although it was first awarded in 2003, the Abel Prize has quickly become one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics. Tomorrow, we’ll have a new winner.
Every year, the King of Norway gives an award to a mathematician, for cutting edge achievements. Anyone may submit a nomination for the Abel Prize, but self-nominations are not permitted — sorry!
The last part might be particularly painful when considering that on top of the prestigious honor, laureates also receive 7.5 million NOK — or 720,000 dollars — a prize that was recently increased to emphasize Norway’s commitment to the prize.
Last year, Karen Uhlenbec was awarded the prize, and she pledged to donate all to support girls and young women in education.
“We were told that we couldn’t do math because we were women….. There was a lot of blatant, overt discouragement,” she reminisced about her early career.
Uhlenbeck was the first woman to ever receive the prize, for her “her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory, and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.”
It was a groundbreaking moment for both Uhlenbeck and the award itself. In science and in mathematics, women are starting to gain the recognition they deserve — but there’s still a very long way to go. Meanwhile, for the Abel Prize, it was a sign that the committee is looking strictly at achievements, and nothing else — and judging by achievements, Uhlenbeck was absolutely deserving.
Uhlenbeck’s influence spread to multiple fields of mathematics. Like all Abel Prize recipients before her, she created an outstanding legacy that can serve as an inspiration for mathematicians around the world.
It is the sign of a healthy society when leading mathematicians receive the recognition they deserve. This is important on two levels: on one hand, it cherishes the achievements of some of the brightest minds in mathematics. But perhaps even more importantly, it offers role models for aspiring, up-and-coming researchers. Too often, math has an unfortunate image in society, and it’s more important than ever to help change that image.
Tomorrow, we find out who wins the Abel Prize. I can’t wait for it.