Karen Uhlenbeck becomes the first woman to win the Abel Prize

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has decided to award the Abel Prize in Mathematics for 2019 to Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas at Austin, USA, “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.”

When Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck held a Plenary Lecture in Kyoto, Japan in 1990, at the world’s most important gathering of mathematicians, the ICM, or the International Congress of Mathematicians, she was only the second woman in history to have done so – the first being Emmy Noether in 1932…

She says: “you really need to… show students how imperfect people can be and still succeed. Everyone knows that if people are smart, funny, pretty, or well-dressed they will succeed. But it’s also possible to succeed with all of your imperfections”.

“Karen Uhlenbeck receives the Abel Prize 2019 for her fundamental work in geometric analysis and gauge theory, which has dramatically changed the mathematical landscape. Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions”, said Hans Munthe-Kaas, Chair of the Abel Committee…

Gauge theory is the mathematical language of theoretical physics, and Uhlenbeck’s fundamental work in this area is essential for the modern mathematical understanding of models in particle physics, string theory and general relativity.

• The Abel Prize recognizes contributions to the field of mathematics that are of extraordinary depth and influence. It is presented annually in Oslo by His Majesty King Harald V, and is administered by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters on behalf of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.
• The Abel Prize was established in 2002 on the 200th anniversary of Niels Henrik Abel’s birth, and it has been awarded to 19 laureates.
• Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) was a Norwegian mathematician. Despite living in poverty and dying at the age of 26, he pioneered the proof that equations with powers like x5 or higher do not (unlike quadratics, cubics, and quartics) have an algebraic formula to solve them, and the theory of elliptic functions.