Abel Prize winner: ‘Math is beautiful’

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Pierre Deligne, a Belgian mathematician who believes “math is beautiful,” received this year’s Abel Prize from Norway’s King Harald V in an annual ceremony at the University of Oslo’s Aula. The prize is awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters to recognize outstanding mathematicians and encourage math developments.

King Harald applauds Pierre Deligne after presenting him with this year's prestigious Abel Prize in mathematics. The ceremony was held in the Aula of the University of Oslo, famous for its murals by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. PHOTO: Abel Prize

King Harald applauds Pierre Deligne after presenting him with this year’s prestigious Abel Prize in mathematics. The ceremony was held in the Aula of the University of Oslo, famous for its murals by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. PHOTO: The Abel Prize

Deligne, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, was honoured “for seminal contributions to algebraic geometry and for their transformative impact on number theory, representation theory and related fields.”

The prize carries a cash award of NOK 6 million (USD 1.o3 million), financed through a fund set up by the Norwegian government in 2001. Deligne was the guest of honour Tuesday night at a banquet hosted by the Norwegian government at the historic Akershus Fortress and Castle on Oslo’s waterfront.

Deligne also was received in audience at the Royal Palace and his host Tuesday evening was Norwegian Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen. The Abel Prize, awarded for the 11th time this year, has been hailed as the world’s most important prize within mathematics, and Deligne was selected for his “meaningful contributions.”

Pierre Deligne with his Abel Prize for 2013, awarded on Tuesday in Oslo. PHOTO: The Abel Prize

Pierre Deligne with his Abel Prize for 2013, awarded on Tuesday in Oslo. PHOTO: The Abel Prize

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Deligne began working with mathematical formulations at the age of three. “Mathematics is beautiful and full of surprises,” he told Aftenposten when the prize was first announced earlier this spring. “That’s really the main reason for my interest all these years. I have other interests in life, including the outdoors and nature, but my garden is full of weeds. You don’t find weeds in mathematics.”

Deligne said he was overwhelmed by winning the prize, which also calls for him to lecture at the University of Oslo (UiO) on Wednesday (his topic: “Hidden symmetries of algebraic varieties”) and at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (NTNU) later in what’s called “Abel Week” in Norway. Other events include lectures at UiO by, among others, Nicholas Katz of Princeton University and Ravi Vakil of Stanford University, a reception at the Belgian Embassy in Oslo and an Abel Party at the historic Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, also in Oslo. The week’s festivities will end with the Abel Symposium in honour of the Abel Laureate at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Friday.

Deligne insisted, though, that the Abel Prize, named for Norwegian mathematician Nils Henrik Abel, wasn’t just for him. “It represents something of its own, and I’m happy and proud,” he told Aftenposten, “but the most important thing will be if it can inspire and lead to young people getting interested in mathematics.”

While in Trondheim, he planned to take time to meet schoolchildren who will be trying to solve mathematical problems. His hope is that they’ll also find math to be beautiful, and full of surprises.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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