Canadian mathematician Robert Langlands on March 20 won the prestigious Abel Prize for developing a programme connecting representation theory to number theory. The programme has enlisted hundreds of the world’s best mathematicians over the last 50 years. No other project in modern mathematics has as wide a scope, has produced so many deep results, and has so many people working on it.
Now aged 81, Mr. Langlands will be awarded the 6-million-kroner ($776,000) Abel Prize by Norway’s King Harald in Oslo on May 22. Named after the 19th century Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, the prize was established by the Norwegian government in 2002 and first awarded a year later, to honour outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics, a discipline not included among the Nobel prizes.
The so-called Langlands programme dates back to 1967, when the then-associate professor at Princeton University wrote a letter to renowned French mathematician Andre Weil outlining his new theory. It suggested deep links between two areas, number theory and harmonic analysis, which had previously been considered unrelated. Along with the Fields Medal, which is awarded every four years at the Congress of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), it is one of the world’s most prestigious maths prizes.