Mathematics and the Nobel Prize
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) made his fortune through the manufacture of explosives. He designated the establishment of annual prizes to be given in five areas: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. The first prizes were awarded in 1901. In 1968, a sixth prize was added, in Economics, donated by the Bank of Sweden to celebrate its tercentenary. Strictly speaking, it is not a Nobel Prize but "the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel."
The monetary amount of each prize varies from year to year. In 2003 it was SEK10 million, about $1.3 million.
Although Nobel did not will a prize for mathematics, over the years many mathematicians have won a Nobel Prize. Taking a fairly generous interpretation for what constitutes being a mathematician, the mathematical Laureates are:
1902 Lorentz (Physics)
1904 Rayleigh (Physics)
1911 Wien (Physics)
1918 Planck (Physics)
1921 Einstein (Physics)
1922 Bohr (Physics)
1929 de Broglie (Physics)
1932 Heisenberg (Physics)
1933 Schroedinger (Physics)
1933 Dirac (Physics)
1945 Pauli (Physics)
1950 Russell (Literature)
1954 Born (Physics)
1962 Landau (Physics)
1963 Wigner (Physics)
1965 Schwinger (Physics)
1965 Feynman (Physics)
1969 Tinbergen (Economics)
1975 Kantorovich (Economics)
1983 Chandrasekhar (Physics)
1994 Selten (Economics)
1994 Nash (Economics)
Overall, a fairly good showing for mathematics. Still, this isn't the same as having a prize for mathematics itself.
There is no Nobel Prize for mathematics, but there are equivalents:
1. The Fields Medal
Front: "Rise above oneself and grasp the world"
Back: "Mathematicians gathered from the entire world have awarded [understood but not written: 'this prize'] for outstanding writings."
Officially called the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, is the most prestigious award for mathematicians. Awarded once every four years to up to four mathematicians under the age of 40 ( a recipient must be under age 40 on 1 January of the year in which the medal is awarded) at the International Congress of Mathematicians.
The under-40 rule is based on Fields' desire that "while it was in recognition of work already done, it was at the same time intended to be an encouragement for further achievement on the part of the recipients and a stimulus to renewed effort on the part of others.
The prize is endowed with 15,000 Canadian dollars and was conceived by the Canadian mathematician John Charges Fields (1863-1932) to compensate for the lack of a Nobel Prize in Mathematics.
There have been 55 Fields medallists since the prize was first awarded in 1936, including this year's winners. The Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman refused the prize in 2006 for his proof of the Poincaré conjecture.
In 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first Iranian and first woman to win the Fields Medal.
2. The Abel Prize
The prestigious Abel Medal is awarded every year for outstanding work in mathematics and it is close equivalent to the Nobel Prize. The award ceremony takes place in the Atrium of the University of Oslo Faculty of Law, where the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded between 1947 and 1989.
The prize was first proposed in 1902, to be part of the celebration of 100th anniversary of Abel's birth. Shortly before his death in 1899, the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie proposed establishing an Abel Prize when he learned that Alfred Nobel's plans for annual prizes would not include a prize in mathematics. King Oscar II was willing to finance a mathematics prize in 1902, and the mathematicians Ludwig Sylow and Carl Størmer drew up statutes and rules for the proposed prize. However, Lie's influence waned after his death, and the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905 ended the first attempt to create the Abel Prize.
After interest in the concept of the prize had risen in 2001, a working group was formed to develop a proposal, which was presented to the Prime Minister of Norway in May. In August 2001, the Norwegian government announced that the prize would be awarded beginning in 2002, the two-hundredth anniversary of Abel's birth. Atle Selberg received an honorary Abel Prize in 2002, but the first actual Abel Prize was only awarded in 2003.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters declares the winner in March each year. The prize is awarded by the King of Norway in the atrium of the Domus Media building of the University of Oslo Faculty of Law, where the Nobel Peace Prize was formerly awarded.
The prize amount is 6 million NOK (about USD 700,000 ) and was awarded for the first time on 3 June 2003.
3. The Chern Medal Award
It is named in honor of the late Chinese mathematician Shiing-Shen Chern.
The Chern Medal recognises lifetime achievement in mathematics and, like the Fields Medal, is awarded once every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians. The next is due in Rio de Janeiro in 2018.
The Award consists of a medal and a monetary award of 500,000 US dollars. There is a requirement that half of the award shall be donated to organizations of the recipient's choice to support research, education, outreach or other activities to promote mathematics.