For the first time, a woman has been awarded the prestigious Abel Prize. Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas at Austin will receive the annual prize for her tremendous contributions to the field.
“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,” said Royal Society Fellow Jim Al-Khalili.
The prize, awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, was set up to address a gap in the Nobel Prize, which has no category for 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,” said Hans Munthe-Kaas, Chair of the Abel Committee.
“Her theories have revolutionised our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimisation problems in higher dimensions.”
Gauge theory is the language of theoretical physics, and Uhlenbeck’s work has provided a foundation that is vital to particle physics, string theory and general relativity.
The news is notable because historically, most of the mathematics and science prizes have been awarded primarily to male recipients. Of the 904 individual Nobel laureates, only 51 have been women.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2014 that Maryam Mirzakhani was awarded the The Fields Medal for mathematics, out of the 52 winners up to that date.
The Abel Prize has been running since 2002, and is accompanied by a monetary reward of NOK 6 million (around US$704,000).
Uhlenbeck will be awarded the Abel Prize at a special ceremony on 21 May, presented in Oslo by His Majesty King Harald V.