The Abel Prize—The Missing Nobel in Mathematics?
The Abel Prize in Mathematics was created by the Norwegian government in 2002 in memory of the mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829). The aim was to establish an annual Abel Prize of NOK 6 million (about US$ 1.1 mill.) that would be world leading in mathematics. The creation of the prize was the result of a short and successful campaign in the spring and summer of 2001, when it was presented as “the missing Nobel Prize in mathematics”. The campaign was based on a powerful mobilization of the history of mathematics and of the dissolution of the union between Sweden—the home of the Nobel Prizes—and Norway in 1905. Mobilization was very well received by both an international mathematical community which for a hundred years had been longing for a scientific prize at the highest level, and by a Norwegian political community that had long been expressing increasing concerns about a lack of interest and competence in the natural sciences throughout the entire Norwegian schooling and higher education system. The Swedish Nobel Foundation nevertheless found repeated presentation of the new prize—“a Nobel in mathematics”—to be quite inappropriate. The article deals with how the Abel Prize was successfully established in the relatively mathematical periphery of Norway, and with how well it has lived up to high expectations during its first ten years.
KeywordsPrime Minister Nobel Prize Mathematical Community European Mathematical Society Work Group Member
This article was written at the request of and mainly financed by the Niels Henrik Abel Board at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. I want to thank my colleagues at the University of Oslo, Edgeir Benum, John Peter Collett and Robert Marc Friedman for their encouragement and constructive comments, but of course, the responsibility for the final result is mine alone.
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