The Abel Prize is an international prize awarded for outstanding achievements in mathematics. It is a recognition of valuable contributions to the field, such as the solution of fundamental problems, the development of important new techniques and principles, and the opening up of new areas of research. The prize is NOK 6 million.
The efforts to establish the Abel Prize were started by the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie (1842-1899), but were discontinued after his death. In 1902, the centenary of Abel’s birth, King Oscar II became interested in the idea of establishing a prize in Abel’s honour. However, plans were once again dropped when the union between Norway and Sweden was dissolved in 1905.
It was not until August 2000, that the vision of a major international prize for mathematics bearing Abel’s name was revived at a meeting between Arild Stubhaug, Abel biographer, and Tormod Hermansen, then CEO of Telenor. A group of mathematicians at the University of Oslo drew up a proposal, which was submitted to the prime minister. In 2002, the Storting gave its approval and the first prize was awarded the following year. The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters selects the winning candidate on the basis of an international committee’s recommendation. The prize is normally awarded by the King in a ceremony at the University of Oslo’s Aula in May each year. The following day, the prize winner gives his or her Abel Lecture at the University of Oslo, and later gives it again at one of the other university cities in Norway.
The Abel Fund
The main purpose of the fund is to provide the financial basis for an international prize of NOK 6 million for one or more mathematicians, with a view to boosting the status of mathematics in society and encouraging an interest in mathematics in children and young people.
The Abel Fund also supports the two major Norwegian competitions in mathematics, the Niels Henrik Abel Mathematics Contest and KappAbel. The Norwegian Mathematical Society arranges one or two Abel symposia a year to promote research in mathematics and to boost the international position of Norwegian work in the field. In addition, the Abel Fund supports the Ramanujan Prize for young mathematicians from developing countries.
Niels Henrik Abel (1802-1829)
The Abel Prize is awarded in commemoration of the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel. Already at an early age, Abel displayed an extraordinary talent for mathematics, and in 1821 he entered into the University of Christiania (now Oslo). In the autumn of 1825 he travelled to Berlin on his way to Paris, the metropolis of mathematics. In Berlin, he met the German engineer August Leopold Crelle. Crelle was inspired by his meeting with Abel to publish a mathematical journal, which became known as Crelle’s Journal and was able to compete with the leading journals in Paris.
Abel arrived in Paris in July 1826, and immediately began work on his famous Paris Memoir. He submitted the memoir to the Academy of Sciences, but received no response. He was sure that it had been lost for good. He was feeling unwell and consulted a doctor, only to be informed that he had tuberculosis – a death sentence in those days. He returned to Christiania with only one and a half years left to live. There he wrote an impressive number of papers in quick succession, which he sent to Crelle in Berlin.
Niels Henrik Abel died on 6 April 1829, 26 years old. Only two days later, a letter arrived from Paris saying that his memoir had been found, and a letter from Crelle in Berlin joyfully announced the offer of a permanent position in that city. Abel’s Paris Memoir was published by the Academy in 1841, and has received greater acclaim than almost any other mathematical paper.