From Algorithms and Archimedes to Equations and Einstein to Variables and Vedic, mathematicians have redefined the ways we measure and interpret our world. While there is no official Nobel Prize for the contributions of mathematicians, the international mathematical community holds its own honor for special contributions and this award is called the Fields Medal. The lasting legacy of John Charles Fields, these honors are given by the International Mathematical Congress every four years to young mathematicians of merit.

John Charles Fields

Born in 1863 in Hamilton, Ontario, John Charles Fields was a brilliant mathematician, who after taught at Johns Hopkins, Alleghany College, and the University of Toronto. Disillusioned by the state of mathematical research, he associated with the most brilliant mathematical minds of the time and worked to restore mathematics to a more respected public and academic stature. In the late 1920s, Fields wanted to create an award to recognize the achievements of young mathematical minds, but his health began to fail. Fields died in August 193, but like Alfred Nobel,his will left a bequest to establish the honor which bears his name, Fields Medal.

Field Awards and Nomination Process

The first Fields Medal was awarded at the International Congress of Mathematics meeting in Oslo in 1936, and since 1950, the honor has been awarded every four years at the Opening meeting of the International Mathematical Congress. Typically two to four mathematicians are honored with this prestigious prize. And, while there is no specific age restrictions outlined in Fields' last will and testament, medals have been restricted to mathematicians under the age of 40.

The nomination process is relatively simple. The names and affiliations of the prospective candidate are forwarded to the Chair of the Fields Medal selection committee. The age and a description of the candidate’s relevant work or justification for nomination must be included. From this pool of nominees, the awardees are selected.

The 2010 Winners

Four men were honored with the prestigious Fields Medal this past August 2010. And, they were Ngo Vai Chau, Elon Lindenstrauss, Stanislav Smirnov, and Cedric Villani.

Ngo Bao Chau,

Ngo Bao Chau, the youngest professor in Vietnam, was born in Hanou in 1972. He majored in mathematics at Hanoi University of Natural Sciences’ advanced school. At the age of 16, Chau won the gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in Australia and in the next year, won a second gold medal at the IMO in Germany. Chau completed his graduate studies at the University of Paris and Orsay. By September 2010, Chau will assume a professorship at the University of Chicago. He earned his Fields Awards for his proof of the fundamental lemma, which considers the relations between two distinct fields of mathematics, arithmetics and group theory

Elon Lindenstrauss

For Elon Lindenstrauss, mathematics is genetic. The son of Joram Lindenstrauss, noted mathematician, was born in Israel in 1970. The younger Lindenstrauss completed his studies at the Hebrew University where he obtained his bachelors in mathematics and physics, and his masters and doctorate in mathematics. A bronze medalist in the IMO, he has earned many other awards. He served as a Long Term Prize Fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute and Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University. Since 2009, he has been a Mathematics professor at the Hebrew University. .Lindenstrauss work focuses on works in the area of dynamics, particularly in the area of ergodic theory and its application in number theory. It was for his achievements in this area that he earned his Fields Medal.

Stanislav Smirnov

Born September 1970, Stanislav Smirnov is a mathematician at the University of Geneva. Born in Leningrad, Smirnov obtained his undergraduate degree at St. Petersburg State University and his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. Smirnov earned gold medals in the 1986 and 1987 IMOs and several other notable prizes. An expert in percolation theory, Smirnov won his Fields Medal for his proof of Cardy’s formula for critical site percolation on the triangular lattice and deduced conformal invariance.

Cedric Villani

Born in France in 1973, Cedric Villani earned his Ph.D at the Paris Dauphine University and served a Professor at the Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon in 2000. Villani has published many theoretical pieces and earned the many honors. He currently serves as the Director of the Institut Henri Poincare in Paris and has joined the Universite Claude Bernard Lyon I as a professor of mathematics. Villani has focused much of his work on the theory of partial differential equations and has offered mathematical interpretations of the physical concept of entropy. For this work, he was awarded the Fields Medal.

While the Fields Medal is considered the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, it seems to be so much more. As a testament to John Fields' commitment to mathematical scholarship, the Fields Medal stands as the most prestigious global recognition of mathematical advances in the world and encourages the ongoing connectivity of mathematics to other academic disciplines.