Karen Uhlenbeck first woman to win Abel Prize

This year’s Abel Prize has been awarded to the US mathematician Professor Karen Uhlenbeck, Princeton University, for her ‘pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics ‘fundamental contributions to dynamical systems, ergodic theory, and mathematical physics’. She is the first woman to be awarded the prestigious honour. Professor Uhlenbeck will be presented with the Prize by His Majesty King Harald V at an award ceremony in Oslo on 21 May 2019. The Prize carries a cash award of 6 million NOK (about 650,000 Euro or about 730,000 USD).

Professor Uhlenbeck is a founder of modern Geometric Analysis. Her perspective has permeated the field and led to some of the most dramatic advances in mathematics in the past 40 years. Geometric analysis is a field of mathematics where techniques of analysis and differential equations are interwoven with the study of geometrical and topological problems. Specifically, studies on objects such as curves, surfaces, connections and fields, which are critical points of functionals representing geometric quantities such as energy and volume. For example, minimal surfaces are critical points of the area and harmonic maps are critical points of the Dirichlet energy. The winner’s major contributions include foundational results on minimal surfaces and harmonic maps, Yang-Mills theory, and integrable systems.

Professor Uhlenbeck has received many honours during a distinguished career and was elected an Honorary Member of the LMS in 2008.

For the first time the announcement was transmitted live to an audience at the Science Gallery in London, with the LMS working in collaboration with the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Norwegian Embassy in London. After the announcement, a panel including LMS President Professor Caroline Series FRS, past-LMS President Professor Nigel Hitchin FRS, Professor Mark Haskins and Professor Peter Topping discussed the winners’ life and work. The panel was moderated by the Science Gallery’s founding Director Daniel Glaser.

Professor Caroline Series FRS, President of the LMS, said: ‘I have always been a great admirer of Karen’s. She is a powerful and distinguished mathematician whose foundational work in geometric analysis has had far reaching ramifications. Throughout her career she has also been a great leader and mentor, and I am sure that many others besides myself will be absolutely delighted that she has been recognised by the award of the Abel Prize, one of the highest awards in mathematics’. 

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