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Vol. LXIV, No. 34
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
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Princeton Professor Lindenstrauss Awarded Fields Medal for Contributions to Mathematics

Dilshanie Perera

Princeton University Professor of Mathematics Elon Lindenstrauss has been awarded a Fields Medal, considered to be the most prestigious honor in the field of mathematics.

Mr. Lindenstrauss is one of four of this year’s prize recipients, who include mathematicians Ngo Bau Chau, Stanislav Smirnov, and Cedric Villani.

“One of the best parts of being a mathematician is interacting with other mathematicians: there are a lot of super-smart, also often very generous, people in this field … it is quire remarkable to be chosen to get the Fields Prize from this extraordinary pool of talent,” Mr. Lindenstrauss said.

Awarded every four years to mathematicians no older than 40, the Fields Medal was first granted in 1936 in a tradition started by Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields. The awards come with a cash prize of approximately $13,300.

One of six other Princeton professors to receive a Fields Medal, Mr. Lindenstrauss noted that “I have spent many years at Princeton at the various stages of my career, and think that the combination of the Department of Mathematics at Princeton University and the School of Mathematics at the IAS (Institute for Advanced Study) in close proximity makes it a wonderful place to do mathematics, possibly the best place there is.”

Mr. Lindenstrauss is the first Israeli mathematician to receive the Fields Medal. The awards were presented last Thursday during the opening ceremony of the International Congress of Mathematicians in Hyderabad, India.

Having taught at Princeton since 2004, Mr. Lindenstrauss will be on faculty until September 1, whereupon he will join the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. He will also work as a visiting research collaborator at Princeton for the coming year.

Ergodic theory, dynamical systems, and number theory all comprise Mr. Lindenstrauss’s area of study. Ergodic theory describes the statistical and qualitative behavior of measurable group actions on mathematical constructs known to measure spaces. Originated in the 1930s by mathematicians including John von Neumann, it has grown to be of wide interest to researchers, and has applications to number theory, differential geometry, statistical mechanics, and functional analysis.

In being honored with the Fields Medal, Mr. Lindenstrauss was cited for developing “extraordinarily powerful theoretical tools in ergodic theory, a field of mathematics initially developed to understand celestial mechanics. He then used them, together with his understanding of ergodic theory, to solve a series of problems in areas of mathematics that are seemingly distant. 

Colleague and Princeton Math Professor Peter Sarnak said of Mr. Lindenstrauss, “He has uncovered something that is far-reaching and deep. I’m sure it will be at the heart of many developments, some related and some quite unexpected.”

Mr. Lindenstrauss is also known for applying ergodic theory to a longstanding problem in number theory known as the Littlewood Conjecture. In this work, he collaborated with two other mathematicians, Manfred Einsiedler of Switzerland and Anatole Katok of Penn State University. They did not solve the problem but came close.

“The problem is so notoriously difficult that everyone else who has tried it has come away with their fingers burnt and with nothing to say,” Mr. Sarnak said. Mr. Lindenstrauss’s work on the conjecture with the others, according to Mr. Sarnak, was “spectacular.”

After earning his Ph.D. from Hebrew University, Mr. Lindenstrauss held academic positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Stanford University, and New York University before coming to Princeton. He also was a long-term prize fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute while serving concurrently as a visiting member of the Courant Institute at NYU. He recently won the Fermat Prize for Mathematics Research for his work in number theory.

At the same meeting at which Mr. Lindenstrauss received his medal, Ingrid Daubechies, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Mathematics and Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton, was named president of the International Mathematical Union for the term 2011-2014.

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