The 2010 Fields Medal Winners

On August 22, 2010, the 2010 class of Fields Medal winners were announced.

The Fields Medal, considered to be the “Nobel Prize” of Mathematics—the Nobel has no award in mathematics- is awarded every four years by the International Congress of Mathematicians, a subgroup of the International Union of Mathematicians. First proposed at the 1924 Toronto Congress, the prize is to be awarded for outstanding mathematical achievement. The first awards, whose official name is “International medals for outstanding discoveries in mathematics”, were handed out at the 1936 Oslo Congress, using funding provided by a Canadian professor of mathematics, J. C. Fields, the secretary of the 1924 congress. Originally, there were only two awards presented at each meeting, but in 1966 it was decided that four prizes would be awarded.

The first two winners, in 1936, were both out of Boston—Lars Valerian Ahlfors of Harvard University, and Jesse Douglas, out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And, in an interesting note, the fictional math professor in Good Will Hunting, Gerard Labeau of MIT, won a Fields Medal for work in combinatorial mathematics.

Winners receive a gold medal and the equivalent of $15,000 Canadian. The medal is made of gold, and shows the head of Archimedes (287-212 BC) together with a quotation attributed to him: “Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri” (“Rise above oneself and grasp the world”). The reverse side bears the inscription: “Congregati ex toto orbe mathematici ob scripta insignia tribuere” (“the mathematicians assembled here from all over the world pay tribute for outstanding work”).

Here are the winners, presented at Hyderabad, India, at the Hyderabad International Convention Center.

Cedric Villani, of the Henri Poincare Institute, Paris was recognized for his work in entropy and applying that work to solving problems inspired by physics.

Stanistov Smirnov, University of Geneva, also received the award for work relating to physics. He offered elaborate proofs of two longstanding conjectures in conceptual physics. One involves the Isling Model relating to magnetism, the other concerns percolation.

Ngo Bao Chao, who will soon join the faculty at the University of Chicago, won for his proof of the so-called Fundamental Lemma. This has implications in high-energy physics, cryptography, and computer science.

Finally, Elon Lindenstrauss at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was awarded a medal for his work on measure rigidity in ergodic theory, and their applications to number theory. Ergodic theory involves the behavior of dynamical systems.

The next Congress will be held in 2014. Congratulations to this year’s winners, and good luck to all future contenders.