Mikhail Gromov Wins Abel Prize

Prize / by Joe Kloc /

Russian-French mathematician wins the Abel Prize for his revolutionary contributions to geometry.

Credit: Jean-François Dars

The Russian-French mathematician Mikhail Gromov was announced the winner of the Abel Prize on Thursday by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for his “revolutionary contributions to geometry.”

Along with the Wolf Prize — which Gromov received in 1993 — and the Fields Medal, the Abel Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics. King Harald V of Norway will present it to Gromov on May 19th; it’s worth about $950,000.

Mathematician Vagn Lundsgaard Hansen gave a lecture on Gromov’s accomplishments after the announcement was made. He said that if a single concept should be mentioned as central in Gromov’s work, it is the notion of distance, “which he has introduced in completely surprising situations and exploited with elegance.”

Mathematical distance — the measure of closeness between two objects or ideas — seems a particularly fitting concept with which to consider the influence Gromov has had outside of geometry. He has found creative ways to apply geometric techniques to other areas of mathematics, bringing together fields that are often considered fundamentally quite far apart.

When Gromov was announced the winner of the 2009 Abel Prize, Kristian Seip, the chairman of the committee that selected Gromov for the award, said that Gromov’s work has led to some of the most important developments in geometry and other areas of mathematics. “He has produced deep and original work throughout his career and remains remarkably creative,” said Seip.

“He is one of the greatest mathematicians of our time,” said Leslie Greengard, the director of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at NYU. “He has introduced some of the most important ideas in geometry, group theory, and topology in the last few decades.”

Gromov has also found applications for his work outside of mathematics, in physics and biology. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, the director of the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHÉS) in France, where Gromov has been a permanent professor since 1992, responded in a letter to the decision of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences to give Gromov the Abel Prize. Bourguignon wrote that Gromov’s commitment to exploring the interface between mathematics and biology has prompted the IHÉS to explore new collaborations with biologists and biochemists.

According to Bourguignon, Gromov has an unconventional mind that “just wants to get to the bottom of things.”

Gromov was born in Russia and earned his PhD in 1969 at what is now Saint-Petersburg State University. He moved to France five years later and became a French citizen in 1992. Gromov is a permanent professor at IHÉS and the Jay Gould professor of mathematics at New York University.

Originally published March 26, 2009

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