Mathematics’ most prestigious prize awarded to a woman for the first time
Karen Uhlenbeck, a mathematician and professor at the University of Texas, has been awarded this year’s Abel Prize, a mathematics prize modeled after the Nobels. It’s the first time the prize has gone to a woman.
The Abel Prize is awarded by the King of Norway to mathematicians who have greatly influenced their field, and includes a cash award of 6 million Norwegian kroner (about $700,000). The first prize was awarded in 2003.
Uhlenbeck, 76, is known for her work with partial differential equations. However, her decades-long career spans multiple disciplines, including physics, geometry and quantum theory.
“Uhlenbeck’s research has led to revolutionary advances at the intersection of mathematics and physics,” Paul Goldbart, dean of the University of Texas’ College of Natural Sciences said in a release. “Her pioneering insights have applications across a range of fascinating subjects, from string theory, which may help explain the nature of reality, to the geometry of space-time.”
One of Uhlenbeck’s most famous contributions was her theories of predictive mathematics inspired by soap bubbles. The thin, curved surface area of a soap bubble is an example of a “minimal surface,” a surface that forms itself into a shape that takes up the least amount of area. Examining how these surfaces behave can help researchers better understand a wide amount of phenomena across a wide array of scientific studies.
“Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions,” Hans Munthe-Kaas, chair of the Abel Committee said in a release.