Norway Awards Second Abel Prize

May 25, 2004

In 2002, the Norwegian government commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Niels Henrik Abel (1802-29) by establishing a fund for an international prize in mathematics. In March, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced this year's recipients of the annual prize: Sir Michael Atiyah of the University of Edinburgh and Isadore Singer of MIT.

Atiyah and Singer were chosen by an international committee of mathematicians and cited by the academy "for their discovery and proof" of the Atiyah-Singer index theorem, "bringing together topology, geometry and analysis, and their outstanding role in building new bridges between mathematics and theoretical physics."

Created in part to make up for the lack of a Nobel Prize in mathematics, the Abel Prize consists this year of approximately 6 million Norwegian kroner (US $875,000). King Harald of Norway will present the prize to Atiyah and Singer on May 25 at ceremonies in Oslo.

Meanwhile, word of the prize has been circulating. SIAM News was particularly taken with Dan Rockmore's account in The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 9, 2004), in which he distinguishes the Abel Prize from the Nobel Prizes and the Fields Medal (frequently referred to in the past as "the Nobel prize for mathematics") before articulating some thoughts about the distinction "between theories and theorems." He leaves the Chronicle's largely non-mathematical, non-scientific readership with at least an idea of the extent and nature of Atiyah and Singer's achievements, building on a description of the work of Jean-Pierre Serre of le Collège de France, the first recipient of the Abel Prize (for work in algebraic geometry and algebraic topology).

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