For the first time, one of the world’s most prestigious mathematics prizes was given to a woman. Karen Uhlenbeck, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, is the first woman to receive the Abel Prize in mathematics.
According to the New York Times, the prize recognises “the basic importance of her work on analysis, geometry, and mathematical physics.” It is granted by the King of Norway to excellent mathematicians who have profoundly influenced their area, and includes a monetary prize of Norwegian kroner worth approximately $700,000. Since 2003, the prize has been given out, however all past winners have been men.
Dr. Uhlenbeck is widely recognised for her contributions to geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory, and integrable systems. According to the Times, she helped pioneer a branch known as geometric analysis, and her theories of predictive mathematics, inspired by soap bubbles, were among her most notable achievements.
“She did things nobody thought about doing, and after she did, she laid the foundations of a branch of mathematics,” said Sun-Yung Alice Chang, a mathematician at Princeton University who served on the prize committee.
According to the Times, Dr. Uhlenbeck found out about her history-making award on Sunday morning, via text message, and said that she has yet to decide what to do with the cash prize that comes with it.
“When I came out of church, I noticed that I had a text message from Alice Chang that said, Would I please accept a call from Norway?” she said. “When I got home, I called Norway back and they told me.”