Academy mourns prizewinner’s death

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It was just last week that the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters was celebrating famed mathematicians John Nash and Louis Nirenberg, and awarding them this year’s Abel Prize. This week the academy was “deeply mourning” the deaths of both Nash and his wife Alicia, after they were killed in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike while traveling home from their week in Norway.

Abel Prize winner John Nash (left) and his wife Alicia in Oslo last week, after placing a traditional wreath on the grave of Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, for whom the Abel Prize is named. PHOTO: Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Abel Prize winner John Nash (left) and his wife Alicia in Oslo last week, after placing a traditional wreath on the grave of Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, for whom the Abel Prize is named. PHOTO: Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

“The Academy was greatly honoured that both laureates and their wives came to Norway to receive the Abel Prize for 2015,” Kirsti Strøm Bull, president of the academy, and John Rognes, chair of the international Abel Committee, stated on Tuesday. “After memorable days with the Abel Prize ceremony in Oslo and Abel Prize lectures in Oslo and Bergen, it is deeply tragic that John Forbes Nash Jr and Alicia Nash passed away during their journey home.”

Nirenberg, reached at his home on Sunday, called Nash “a wonderful mathematician.” After flying back to the US from Norway with the couple, Nirenberg told the academy that the couple got into a taxi at the airport for the ride back home together. Shortly thereafter, on Saturday afternoon local time, the taxi was involved in a collision and both John Nash, age 86, and Alicia Nash, age 82, were killed.

John Nash (left) and Louis Nirenberg receiving the Abel Prize in Mathematics from King Harald last week. PHOTO:  Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters/NTB Scanpix

John Nash (left) and Louis Nirenberg receiving the Abel Prize in Mathematics from King Harald last week. PHOTO: Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters/NTB Scanpix

Nash and Nirenberg jointly received the Abel Prize from King Harald V last Tuesday, May 19, and the monarch also had welcomed both to the Royal Palace in Oslo and attended the banquet held in their honour at the historic Akershus Fortress and Castle. The Nash couple had two special requests during their stay in Oslo: To attend the new exhibit pairing works by Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh at Oslo’s Munch Museum, and to meet young Norwegian chess champion Magnus Carlsen. Nash was known, after all, for his groundbreaking work in game theory. Both requests were fulfilled.

The laureates shared the Norwegian government-funded cash prize of NOK 6 million (USD 750,000) and were hailed for their “striking and seminal contributions to the theory of nonlinear partial differential equations and its applications to geometric analysis.” This week the celebrations seemed a distant memory.

“Our heartfelt condolences go to the family of John F and Alicia Nash,” the academy stated on its website, which is full of photos of the couple’s week in Norway. The academy, the students who packed Nash’s and Nirenberg’s lectures last week and many others in Norway were by no means alone in their grief. The president of Princeton University in New Jersey, where Nash was a senior researcher, said the academic community was “stunned and saddened by news of the untimely passing of John Nash and his wife and great champion Alicia.” President Christopher L Eisgruber added that both were “very special members” of the Princeton University community.

He added how “John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians,” while his “life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges.” That included the paranoid schizophrenia that Nash battled for years, and which interrupted his mathematical research between 1959 and the 1980s. Their life was depicted in the biography by Sylvia Nasar on which the film A Beautiful Mind was based, starring Russell Crowe as Nash, in 2001. “Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts,” wrote Crowe on social media during the weekend.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund