Uhlenbeck first woman winner of Abel Prize

The mathematician developed tools and methods used to model theoretical physics concepts

Abel Prize
Norway Today

Karen Uhlenbeck

Photo courtesy of Abel Prize
Karen Uhlenbeck.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has decided to award the Abel Prize in Mathematics for 2019 to Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas at Austin “for 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.”

When Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck held a Plenary Lecture in Kyoto, Japan, in 1990, at the world’s most important gathering of mathematicians, the International Congress of Mathematicians, she was only the second woman in history to have done so—the first being Emmy Noether in 1932.

“The recognition of Uhlenbeck’s achievements should have been far greater, for her work has led to some of the most important advances in mathematics in the last 40 years,” says Royal Society Fellow Jim Al-Khalili.

Uhlenbeck is a mathematician, but she is also a role model and a strong advocate for gender equality in science and mathematics. As a child, she loved reading and dreamed of becoming a scientist. Today, Uhlenbeck is Visiting Senior Research Scholar at Princeton University as well as Visiting Associate at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). She is one of the founders of the Park City Mathematics Institute (PCMI) at IAS, which aims to train young researchers and promote mutual understanding of the interests and challenges in mathematics.

“Karen Uhlenbeck receives the Abel Prize 2019 for her fundamental work in geometric analysis and gauge theory, which has dramatically changed the mathematical landscape. Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions,” says Hans Munthe-Kaas, chair of the Abel Committee.

Uhlenbeck developed tools and methods in global analysis, which are now in every geometer and analyst’s toolbox. Her work also lays the foundation for contemporary geometric models in mathematics and physics.

Inspired by a fellow Abel Prize laureate, the late Sir Michael Atiyah, Uhlenbeck became interested in gauge theory. Gauge theory is the mathematical language of theoretical physics, and Uhlenbeck’s fundamental work in this area is essential for the modern mathematical understanding of models in particle physics, string theory and general relativity.

About the Abel Prize

The Abel Prize recognizes contributions to the field of mathematics of extraordinary depth and influence. It is presented annually in Oslo by His Majesty King Harald V, and is administered by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters on behalf of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

The prize amount is NOK 6 million. The choice of laureate is based on the recommendations of the Abel Committee, which is composed of five internationally recognized mathematicians. The Abel Prize was established in 2002 on the 200th anniversary of Niels Henrik Abel’s birth, and it has been awarded to 19 laureates.

Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) was a Norwegian mathematician. In spite of his short life, he made significant contributions to a variety of mathematical fields.

For more information about the laureate, her achievements, and the Abel Prize, visit www.abelprisen.no.

This article was originally published on Norway Today.

This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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