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John Milnor Wins Abel Prize for Mathematics

Milnor abel prize 1
Milnor Abel Prize
Abel Laureate John Milnor and Ragni Piene, chair of the Abel committee, at the award ceremony in Oslo (Photo: Kyrre Lien/The Abel Prize/The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters).

John Milnor, Professor of Mathematics and Co-director of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Stony Brook, received the Abel Prize for Mathematics from His Majesty King Harald at an award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on Tuesday, May 24. Milnor then delivered his prize lecture at the University of Oslo, with Curtis McMullen and Michael Hopkins giving the Abel lectures. The aim of the lectures is to give a general audience a glimpse of the mathematics of the Abel laureate and to convey to the general mathematician the importance and impact of his work. The Royal Swedish Academy of Science is hosting a seminar on May 27 to honor Milnor and his mathematical work.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters grants the Abel Prize, which is an annual award of 6 million kroner ($1 million) awarded to candidates who have contributed to the mathematical sciences. An international committee of five mathematicians select the winner. In making the announcement back in March, the Academy stated that Milnor’s “profound ideas and fundamental discoveries have largely shaped the mathematical landscape of the second half of the 20th century.” It also cited his “pioneering discoveries in topology, geometry, and algebra.”

“The Abel is the highest honor a mathematician can receive, and I’m very grateful for it,” said Milnor.

“The Abel Prize is an extraordinary honor and wonderful recognition for Jack Milnor,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “It is also a wonderful confirmation of the strength of Stony Brook’s mathematics group, which continues to generate scholarly output of the highest order. We are very proud of Dr. Milnor and his distinguished colleagues.”

“We all applaud the Abel prize committee choice of John Milnor,” said Leon A. Takhtajan, Professor and Chair, Stony Brook Department of Mathematics. “Many generations of mathematicians were brought up on his classic papers and books. Milnor’s influence on mathematics development cannot be overestimated, and it is a great honor and privilege to have John Milnor, one of greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, as a colleague.”

“It has been such a pleasure to work with Jack Milnor for 20 years,” said Misha Lyubich, Director of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Stony Brook. “You become infected with his wonderful spirit of fascination by beauty of mathematical ideas and his relentless pursuit of perfection.”

In January 2011 Milnor was awarded the American Mathematical Society’s (AMS) prestigious Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement, which is among the world’s most prestigious honors given for outstanding contributions to mathematics. He had previously won two other Steele Prizes from the AMS, for Mathematical Exposition (2004) and for Seminal Contribution to Research (1982).

Milnor spent his undergraduate and graduate student years at Princeton, studying knot theory under the supervision of Ralph Fox. He received an A.B. and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton. After many years at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, with shorter stays at UCLA and MIT, he settled at Stony Brook. He has studied game theory, differential geometry, algebraic topology, differential topology, quadratic forms, and algebraic K-theory.

For the past 25 years, Milnor’s main focus has been on dynamical systems and particularly on low dimensional holomorphic dynamical systems. Among his current projects is the preparation of a book to be called Dynamics, Introductory Lectures. Five volumes of his older collected papers have been published by the AMS.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he has also won the Fields Medal—the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics awarded to mathematicians under the age of 40 by the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union—and the Wolf Prize in Mathematics, Israel’s highest honor in mathematics.

Video of John Milnor’s Abel Prize Lecture: Spheres

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