On Tuesday, one of the most prestigious mathematics prizes in the world was awarded to a woman for the first time. Karen Uhlenbeck, a mathematician and emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is now the first woman to win the Abel Prize for mathematics.
The prize, according to New York Times, cites “the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.” Modeled after the Nobel Prize, it is awarded by the king of Norway to honor outstanding mathematicians who have greatly influenced their field, and includes a cash prize of Norwegian kroner worth about $700,000. The award has been given out since 2003, but all previous winners have been men.
Dr. Uhlenbeck is renowned for her work in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory, and integrable systems. As the Times reports, she she helped pioneer a field known as geometric analysis, and among her most famous contributions were her theories of predictive mathematics, inspired by soap bubbles.
“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.”