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Argentine mathematician awarded the Abel Prize, the highest distinction in the field

Thursday, May 25th 2023 - 10:57 UTC
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The Abel Prize recognizes achievements in mathematics at any stage of a mathematician’s career The Abel Prize recognizes achievements in mathematics at any stage of a mathematician’s career

The World Math Abel Prize was awarded to an Argentine professor and researcher, Luis Caffarelli for his work on “Partial Differential Equations.” It is the first time a Latin American citizen receives such a prize, whose research has been crucial to help describe phenomena such as the flow of water and demographic growth.

The Abel Math Prize, -considered the equivalent of Math Nobel-, distinction was awarded to Caffarelli at a ceremony in the University of Oslo by King Harald V of Norway. The 74 year old Argentine born mathematician has been for several decades professor and researcher at the University of Texas.

The Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Literature underscored mathematician Caffarelli's fundamental contributions to science

“For more than a quarter century here at UT, Luis Caffarelli has introduced ingenious new techniques that show brilliant geometrical insight,” said Jay Hartzell, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “I can’t think of a worthier selection for the highest honor in mathematics. Changing the world starts with understanding the world, and Luis has helped to advance humanity’s understanding of some of the most formidable problems in all of mathematics. His academic family tree is part of his impact and story, too, as he has mentored dozens of stellar mathematical minds.”

Caffarelli, who holds the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in Mathematics #1 at UT Austin, has contributed extensively to our understanding of partial differential equations (PDEs) and free boundary problems. PDEs arise naturally as laws of nature, to describe phenomena as diverse as the flow of water, the shape of soap bubbles, the movement of electromagnetic waves and the growth of populations.

In an era of supercomputing, having effective models requires being able to simulate real-world phenomena with advanced understanding of the mathematics that drive them, so Caffarelli’s breakthroughs offer important potential applications across a range of domains, such as in economics, modeling fluctuations in stock prices, and in medicine and the energy industry, where they can inform understanding of dynamics related to the movement of blood through the body or of oil underground and in pipes.

Mathematical equations that describe the ever-shifting border of, for example, ice as it melts into a glass of water demonstrate one type of free-boundary problem, an area where Caffarelli’s impact is among the greatest. The surface of the ice theoretically becomes entirely covered in spiky bumps, called singularities, rarely observed in the real world but small, short-lived and uncommon, as Caffarelli’s equations confirmed.

“He is one of the most deserving mathematicians alive today and one of the best mathematicians working on partial differential equations in this century or the last,” said Thomas Chen, chair of the Department of Mathematics at UT Austin. “He has trained many people who have reached the top of mathematical excellence.”

The Abel Prize recognizes achievements in mathematics at any stage of a mathematician’s career, unlike the Fields Medal, another international prize in math given only to mathematicians younger than 40. The Abel Prize comes with a monetary award of 7.5 million Norwegian kroner, or approximately US$ 710,000.

A core member of the Orden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Caffarelli has won many of his field’s top prizes and honors since joining UT Austin.

Born in Buenos Aires, he graduated from the University of Buenos Aires in 1972, and later moved to the US for graduate studies. He is married to Irene M. Gamba, a fellow internationally renowned Argentine-American mathematician, also at UT Austin.

“For me it is a great honor, as Messi has total control over a football, in my case it would be control over equations,” Caffarelli admitted when informed of the prize. The Abel Math Prize was created by the Norwegian parliament in 2002, and was named in honor of Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, 1802/1829.

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