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Wolf Prize in Mathematics

February 6, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments


In the absence of a mathematics Nobel Prize, the most prestigious award given to mathematicians has generally been considered to be the Fields Medal, awarded to as many as four mathematicians quadrennially at the International Congress of Mathematicians. However, in contrast to Nobel Prizes, the Fields Medal is restricted to mathematicians 40 or younger. As a result, many mathematicians whose career work is of Fields medal caliber do not get such recognition.

To fill this gap, The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters established the Abel Prize “for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics” in 2002 and has been awarding it annually to one or two mathematicians since 2003. (I have written about the laureates at Ron’s View since 2009.)

Since 1978, Israel’s Wolf Foundation has been sponsoring their own Nobel-like prize, the Wolf Prize, including one for mathematics. Last month, the 2013 recipients were announced.

This year, the five $100,000 prizes are shared by 8 winners from 4 countries: United States, Germany, Austria and Portugal. Prizes will be awarded in five fields: in the sciences – physics, mathematics, agriculture, and chemistry; and in the arts – in architecture. The prizes will be awarded by President Shimon Peres at a ceremony in May 2013 at the Knesset.


The Wolf Prize is awarded annually by the Wolf Foundation in five areas: four prizes in the sciences and one prize in the arts, in fixed rotation. The prize is awarded to preeminent scientists and artists “for the unique contribution to mankind and friendly relations among peoples … irrespective of nationality, race, color, religion, sex or political views.” To date, 282 recipients from 23 countries have been awarded the Wolf Prize.

The Wolf Prize has gained international prestige, and in the sciences is considered second in importance to the Nobel Prize. In the arts, the Wolf Prize is considered an extremely important award. Over 33 Wolf Prize recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in the fields of science honored by both prizes (medicine, physics, and chemistry).

Two mathematicians share this year’s prize, George Mostow at Yale and Michael Artin at MIT. This is especially exciting for me, since Mike is my friend and long-ago PhD advisor. From the citation:

Michael Artin is one of the main architects of modern algebraic geometry. His fundamental contributions encompass a bewildering number of areas in this field. … Artin’s mathematical accomplishments are astonishing for their depth and their scope. He is one of the great geometers of the 20th century.

Strong praise, but well deserved.

Other recipients this year include Jared Diamond, whose prize is in Agriculture. Yes, the Jared Diamond who writes those bestsellers, such as current bestselling The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

Elsewhere in mathematical recognition, Harvard mathematician Barry Mazur was one of twelve recipients last Friday of the 2012 National Medal of Science.

Barack Obama, Barry Mazur

[Charles Dharapak, AP]

Barry, as it turns out, was my undergraduate thesis advisor. I am blessed to have had two such extraordinary mathematicians as my teachers.

Categories: Math
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