Meet Karen Uhlenbeck, the first woman to win the maths Nobel Prize

On Tuesday, March 19, 76-year-old Karen Uhlenbeck became the first women ever to receive the prestigious Abel Prize, an award specific to the field of mathematics.

Abel Prize is modeled after the Nobel prizes, and is often referred as the Nobel Prize of mathematics.

Uhlenbeck was awarded $700,000 (nearly Rs 5 crore at today’s exchange rates) for her work in the fields of gauge theory and geometric analysis which has dramatically changed the mathematical landscape, said one of the member of the Abel Committee.

With her Abel Prize, Uhlenbeck is now the second woman among other mathematicians to have been awarded a major award in the field of mathematics.

Maryam Mirzakhani had won the Fields Medal in 2014, becoming the first woman to hold a prestigious international mathematics prizes.

Karen Uhlenbeck has often criticised the culture of mathematicians that sees minimal involvement of women.

In 1993, Uhlenbeck had co-founded the Program for Women and Mathematics in order to empower women and encourage them to contribute towards the research in mathematics research at all stages of their academic careers.

She is also a co-founder of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton.

In 1986, she became the first female mathematician to get elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.

Later in 1990, Uhlenbeck stepped up as a second female to become plenary speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians.

Her other awards include:

1983: MacArthur Fellowship

1995: Sigma Xi Common Wealth Award for Science and Technology

2000: National Medal of Science

2007: Leroy P. Steele Prize by American Mathematical Society

Maryam Mirzakhani got her break in mathematics as a temporary faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California, Berkeley.

Currently, Uhlenbeck is a professor at the University of Texas, in Austin. She is also a visiting associate at the Institute for Advanced Study and is a visiting research scholar at Princeton University, US.

The Abel Prize holder began her graduation at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

Jim Al-Khalili an elected member of the Royal Society Fellow and physicist said, The recognition of Uhlenbeck’s achievements should have been far greater, for her work has led to some of the most important advances in mathematics in the last 40 years.


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