US Professor Becomes First Woman to Be Awarded Mathematics’ Most Prestigious Abel Prize

March 20, 2019 Updated: March 25, 2019

Karen Uhlenbeck is a 76-year-old mathematician and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the most recent recipient of the Abel Prize, a prestigious award modeled after the Nobels in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of mathematics. Uhlenbeck is the first woman to ever receive the award.

Uhlenbeck is a jack-of-all-trades in the most impressive interpretation of the phrase, having amassed a huge number of areas of expertise. She has been researching, practicing, and teaching for decades, and besides pure mathematics has also made significant contributions to the fields of physics, geometry, and quantum theory.

The Abel Prize is awarded by the King of Norway and has been running since 2003, when the inaugural prize went to French mathematician Jean-Pierre Serre. Accompanying its tremendous prestige, the Abel Prize includes a substantial cash award of 6 million Norwegian kroner (approx. US$700,000).

In 1990, Karen Uhlenbeck, 2019 Abel Prize Laureate, Visitor in the School of Mathematics, and co-founder of the…

Institute for Advanced Study 发布于 2019年3月19日周二

Uhlenbeck was favored by the judging panel for her “fundamental work in geometric analysis and gauge theory which has dramatically changed the mathematical landscape.” The mathematician was also recognized for her advocacy, with the panel praising her for being “a strong advocate for gender equality in science and mathematics.”

Uhlenbeck has been peripherally preoccupied by reassessing the gender balance in her field for much of her career. In an effort to recruit and retain more women, Uhlenbeck co-founded the Women and Mathematics Program and the Institute for Advanced Study in 1991. She is a role model for young people, particularly women, according to British theoretical physicist and author Jim Al-Khalili.

#Congratulations to Karen Uhlenbeck, Visitor in the School of Mathematics as well as a former Member and Visiting…

Institute for Advanced Study 发布于 2019年3月19日周二

Speaking to UT News, Paul Goldbart, dean of the University of Texas’ College of Natural Sciences, credited Uhlenbeck with making “revolutionary advances at the intersection of mathematics and physics.” Her work has been widely appreciated for its application across a range of subjects. One of these is “string theory,” a theory of quantum gravity that Goldbart claims “may help explain the nature of reality.”

Uhlenbeck is also widely revered for her own theory of predictive mathematics, inspired, fascinatingly, by soap bubbles. Explained in rudimentary terms, the thin, “minimal surface” of a spherical soap bubble produces a shape that takes up the least amount of area. Its behavior can be extrapolated to help mathematicians understand a wide array of different phenomena across both science and math, the two of which are often inextricably intertwined.


Gratulerer til Karen Uhlenbeck med Abelprisen 2019! 🎉Prisen er på 6 milloner kroner og gis for fremragende matematisk arbeid!👏👏Les mer vinneren:

Kunnskapsdepartementet (Norge) 发布于 2019年3月19日周二

Abel Committee Chair Hans Munthe-Kaas confirmed the panel’s appreciation of Uhlenbeck’s widely applicable study. “Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces,” he said, “such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions.”

A fellow mathematician and friend of Uhlenbeck’s, Robbert Dijkgraaf, who is incidentally Leon Levy professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, tweeted his support alongside a jovial picture of the pair: “Congratulations to my dear friend and long-term @the_IAS visitor Karen Uhlenbeck,” he shared, “Fantastic mathematician, role model, and honorary physicist.”

Championing math and championing women, we can’t think of a more appropriate winner for the 2019 Abel Prize. His Majesty King Harald V will be presenting Uhlenbeck with the prestigious award at a ceremony in Oslo on May 21, 2019.

Thumbnail Credit: Twitter | The Abel Prize