NOBEL AWARDS, FIELDS MEDAL AND ABEL AWARD - tributes to scientific knowledge

A little history of the various tributes to scientific knowledge. Nobel Prizes, Fields Medal and Abel Prize.

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Nobel Prize

Nobel Prize; The medal: the front shows the effigy of Alfred Nobel with the dates of birth and death; the verse is specific to each area in which it is assigned.
The medal: the front shows the effigy of Alfred Nobel with the dates of birth and death; the verse is specific to each area in which it is assigned.

The Nobel Prizes were created by the Swedish chemist, inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), through his will written in 1895, to recognize the scientific and cultural advances that provide relevant services for Humanity in the areas of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine , Literature and Peace.

The Nobel prizes were awarded for the first time in 1901 and consist of the award of a gold medal, a diploma and a monetary value that is currently in the order of 1,2 million dollars.

The Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry are awarded by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm; that of Medicine is the responsibility of the Karolinska Institute in Solna, on the outskirts of Stockholm; the one for Literature is decided by the Swedish Academy, Stockholm and the one for Peace, which is not delivered by a Swedish organization, is determined by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo.

As it turns out, Alfred Nobel's will makes no reference to a Nobel Prize in Economics.

The so-called 'Nobel Prize in Economics' is in fact not a Nobel Prize; the misunderstanding arises due to the official designation of the aforementioned prize: 'Bank of Sweden Prize for Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel'; it is this reference 'to the Memory of Alfred Nobel' that is responsible for the mistake. This award was first awarded in 1969 and is the responsibility of the Central Bank of Sweden.

In addition, there is no curiosity in Alfred Nobel's will that there is no reference to a Nobel Prize in Mathematics.

Several justifications have been pointed out for this omission; two, either of them the most romanticized and never proved, or because he declared himself to a woman who refused him at the expense of a mathematician, or because his wife would have betrayed him with a mathematician, another, more plausible, bases this omission on the fact Nobel to be an inventor and industrialist, therefore having no particular sensitivity or interest in mathematics and theoretical sciences.

Fields Medal

The Fields medal: the front presents the effigy of Archimedes surrounded by the Latin expression 'Overcoming the limits of intelligence and conquering the Universe' and the verse shows the phrase, also in Latin, 'Mathematicians from all over the world gathered to pay homage for notable works '
The Fields medal: the front presents the effigy of Archimedes surrounded by the Latin expression 'Overcoming the limits of intelligence and conquering the Universe' and the verse shows the phrase, also in Latin, 'Mathematicians from all over the world gathered to pay homage for notable works '

The denomination 'Fields Medal', officially called the 'International Medal of Prominent Discoveries in Mathematics', is a tribute to the Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields (1863-1932) who created this distinction and financed its implementation.

The decision to award it is up to the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), which meets every four years.

The Fields Medal was awarded for the first time in 1936 and consists of the award of a medal and a monetary prize that is currently 15 000 Canadian dollars (about 10 000 €).

This honor is often pointed out as being equivalent to the Nobel Prize in Mathematics, however it is an abusive comparison because this medal, in addition to being awarded every 4 years, is intended only for mathematicians (at most 4) until at the age of 4, this in order to promote creativity among young mathematicians.

About this particularity of the conditions for the award of this medal, there is a curious story that involves the mathematician Andrew Wiles that I promise to tell in the next opportunity.

There are those who consider that the prestige of the award of the Fields Medal is superior to that of the Nobel Prize, mainly because it represents, with greater fidelity, the intellectual merits that underlie it, arguing that the Nobel Prizes are often awarded for trivial work justified for political reasons , unlike Fields Medals that are awarded for recognition of works with a high level of abstraction, creativity, depth and rigor.

Abel Prize

Abel Prize. The trophy, in crystal, has inlaid the effigy of Niels Abel.
The crystal trophy has inlaid the effigy of Niels Abel.

The history of the creation of the Abel Prize is long but its existence is still short.

In 1899, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802-1829), another Norwegian mathematician, Sophus Lie (1842-1897), disturbed by the fact that Nobel did not create such a distinction for mathematics, suggested the creation of the Abel Prize to award annually the work of one or more mathematicians.

However, as a result of the political vicissitudes that occurred on the Scandinavian Peninsula in the early XNUMXth century, the creation of the Abel Prize was suspended.

Only at the beginning of the 2001st century was the idea of ​​its creation resumed, having been approved by the Norwegian Government in August 2002 and confirmed by the respective Parliament in January 2003. The prize is personally delivered by the King of Norway, the first being finally awarded in XNUMX.

The Abel Prize currently has a monetary value of around € 800.000.

The choice of personalities in the field of Mathematics deserving of this distinction is the responsibility of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters.

This Abel Prize is considered, by most mathematicians, as the real equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Mathematics, since, unlike the Fields Medal, it does not impose any age restrictions and considers the overall work developed by the winners.

To date, 18 mathematicians have been distinguished with this award, including John Forbes Nash (in 2015), whose biography is reported in the film 'A beautiful mind' by the director Ron Howard, with Russell Crowe in the main role, both awarded for their work in this film, with an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

Another distinguished one was Andrew Wiles (in 2016) whose story is fascinating and of whom, as I mentioned above, I will speak again in the next opportunity.

Annually several other prizes are awarded in the area of ​​Mathematics, all of them very prestigious:

-Rolf Nevanlinna Prize, which distinguishes relevant contributions on the mathematical aspects of Information Sciences; each prize corresponds to a gold medal and a monetary prize defined on a case-by-case basis.

- Clay Awards or Millennium Problems Awards, from the Clay Institute of Mathematics, which distinguishes those who manage to solve any of the seven mathematical problems that are presented to mathematicians to be solved during the current millennium, of which only one is solved; each prize corresponds to one million dollars.

- Wolf Prize for Mathematics, from the Wolf Foundation (this Foundation also awards prizes in other areas: Agronomy, Arts, Physics, Chemistry and Medicine).

The development of knowledge of Pure Mathematics, generally without the concern that it has immediate applicability, has often proved useful after several years and sometimes centuries.

The existence of such a diversity of awards for the area of ​​Mathematics is justified by the fact that it is an essential tool in many other areas of scientific knowledge, including engineering, physics, chemistry, medicine, biology and social sciences. All of these awards are, in fact, a consequence and proof that mathematics continues to develop intensely today and throughout the world.

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