‘Remarkable mathematician’ collects his prize

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American professor John Torrence Tate says he loved to crack “mathematical nuts” as a boy. He says he “had no idea” that the work he began “so many years ago” would have such impact, not least within the field of information technology.

King Harald applauding mathematician John Torrence Tate, who won this year's Abel Prize in Oslo. PHOTO: Abelprisen/Scanpix/Berit Roald

Tate, age 85, made the long trip to Norway this week to accept the Abel Prize for 2010, “for his vast and lasting impact on the theory of numbers.”

He was handed the prize by King Harald V, who also received Tate earlier in the day at the Royal Palace.

Tate conceded that it’s difficult for him to describe mathematics at his level to those who aren’t math experts. He’s been called a “remarkable” and “confounding” mathematician by his peers and even though he’s officially retired, he still works as a consultant. He most recently has been attached to the University of Texas at Austin.

His stay in Oslo included a wreath-laying at the statue of Niels Henrik Abel in the park surrounding the Royal Palace and a banquet in his honor at the Akershus Fortress and Castle, hosted by the government minister in charge of higher education, Tora Aasland.

Tate also gave a lecture at the University of Oslo, entitled “The arithmetic of elliptical curves.”

His prize carries a cash award of NOK 6 million, equal to about USD 1 million. The award recognizes “contributions of extraordinary depth and influence to the mathematical sciences” and has been awarded annually since 2003 by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, based on the recommendation of a committee consisting of five mathematicians.

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