American mathematicians John F Nash Jr and Louis Nirenberg were announced on Wednesday as this year’s winners of the Abel Prize, awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters. The prize recognizes “outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics” and carries a cash prize of NOK 6 million (around USD 800,000).
Nash, age 86, and Nirenberg, age 90, were chosen by the academy for their “striking and seminal contributions to the theory of nonlinear partial differential equations and its applications to geometric analysis.” In lay terms, that has to do with why traffic jams can occur and the rates of change behind other physical phenomena.
Both men are considered giants in their field. Nash, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994, spent his career at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is perhaps best known for the mathematics of decision-making. Nirenberg, born in Canada, worked at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and also has won many prizes during his long career. The Norwegian academy noted that even though they did not formally collaborate on any papers, they influenced each other greatly during the 1950s and the results of their work “are felt more strongly today than ever before.”
The Abel Prize, named for Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel and funded by the Norwegian government, will be formally awarded at a ceremony in Oslo on May 19.