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As is now widely reported, the Fields medals for 2010 have been awarded to Elon Lindenstrauss, Ngo Bao Chau, Stas Smirnov, and Cedric Villani. Concurrently, the Nevanlinna prize (for outstanding contributions to mathematical aspects of information science) was awarded to Dan Spielman, the Gauss prize (for outstanding mathematical contributions that have found significant applications outside of mathematics) to Yves Meyer, and the Chern medal (for lifelong achievement in mathematics) to Louis Nirenberg. All of the recipients are of course exceptionally qualified and deserving for these awards; congratulations to all of them. (I should mention that I myself was only very tangentially involved in the awards selection process, and like everyone else, had to wait until the ceremony to find out the winners. I imagine that the work of the prize committees must have been extremely difficult.)
Today, I thought I would mention one result of each of the Fields medalists; by chance, three of the four medalists work in areas reasonably close to my own. (Ngo is rather more distant from my areas of expertise, but I will give it a shot anyway.) This will of course only be a tiny sample of each of their work, and I do not claim to be necessarily describing their “best” achievement, as I only know a portion of the research of each of them, and my selection choice may be somewhat idiosyncratic. (I may discuss the work of Spielman, Meyer, and Nirenberg in a later post.)
On Thursday, UCLA hosted a “Fields Medalist Symposium“, in which four of the six University of California-affiliated Fields Medalists (Vaughan Jones (1990), Efim Zelmanov (1994), Richard Borcherds (1998), and myself (2006)) gave talks of varying levels of technical sophistication. (The other two are Michael Freedman (1986) and Steven Smale (1966), who could not attend.) The slides for my own talks are available here.
The talks were in order of the year in which the medal was awarded: we began with Vaughan, who spoke on “Flatland: a great place to do algebra”, then Efim, who spoke on “Pro-finite groups”, Richard, who spoke on “What is a quantum field theory?”, and myself, on “Nilsequences and the primes.” The audience was quite mixed, ranging from mathematics faculty to undergraduates to alumni to curiosity seekers, and I severely doubt that every audience member understood every talk, but there was something for everyone, and for me personally it was fantastic to see some perspectives from first-class mathematicians on some wonderful areas of mathematics outside of my own fields of expertise.
Disclaimer: the summaries below are reconstructed from my notes and from some hasty web research; I don’t vouch for 100% accuracy of the mathematical content, and would welcome corrections.