Karen Uhlenbeck was awarded the Abel Prize for Mathematics for 2019, becoming the first woman ever to win this prestigious honour. According to the website, she was bestowed with the honour “for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.”
Born in 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio, Uhlenbeck was the eldest of four children. Her love for the subject of mathematics began only after she had started off with university. She graduated from the University of Michigan and completed her PhD from Brandeis University. In her career, she has taught at multiple universities including MIT, University of Illinois, University of Texas, and the University of Urbana-Champaign.
She is widely considered the founder of modern Geometric Analysis and her work has led to some of the most profound advances in mathematics in the last four decades. Her major contributions include foundational results on minimal surfaces and harmonic maps, integrable systems, and Yang-Mills theory. Her most notable work is on gauge theories.
Apart from being a mathematician of international repute, she is also a staunch proponent of greater gender diversity in science and mathematics.
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What is the Abel Prize?
The Abel Prize is one of the most prestigious awards for mathematics in the world, and is widely touted as the Nobel Prize for Mathematics. It was established in honour of the Neils Henrik Abel, a pioneering Norwegian mathematician, on his 200th birthday by the Norwegian government. It seeks to “recognizes contributions to the field of mathematics that are of extraordinary depth and influence.”
It has been awarded since 2003 and carries a cash prize of 6 million Norwegian Krone.