An Overview of the Fields Medal in Mathematics

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The Fields Medal is an award established by the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union. It is considered to be up to par with the "Abel Prize," an international prize presented annually by Norway's King. The Abel Prize is awarded on the anniversary of the birth of Niels Henrik Abel, a Norwegian mathematician. The Abel Prize and the Fields Medal are considered to be the mathematical versions of the "Nobel Peace Prize."

In regards to the Fields Medal, it is awarded every four years. This is different than the Abel Prize which is awarded every year. The Fields Medal is considered a top honor for any mathematician. While the Abel Prize originated from Norway, the Fields Medal originated from Canada. This award was founded by John Charles Fields, a Canadian mathematician.

Fields' career focused mainly algebraic functions. He helped establish the National Research Council of Canada and the Ontario Research Foundation. During his life, Fields would associate himself with the greatest mathematicians of his time. While at Johns
Hopkins University
in Maryland, Fields wrote a thesis called "Symbolic Finite Solutions and Solutions by Definite Integrals of the Equation."

In his honor, University
of Toronto has the "Fields Institute." He also made Toronto the location of the International Congress of Mathematicians.

With regards to the Fields Medal, it is awarded at each assembly of the International Congress at the International Mathematical Union. This assembly takes place every four years. Like the Nobel Prize, the winner of the Fields Medal receives a cash prize. However, there is no sole winner. This is rewarded to two to four mathematicians every four years.

The one requirement to be eligible is that the mathematicians need to be under forty years of age. If you turn forty before January 1 of the year that this medal is awarded, you are ineligible. Still, it is a major honor. Winners represent the mathematical community as a whole on an international level.

The Fields Medal was established to give recognition to the younger mathematicians instead of the older one. In a sense, it goes by merits instead of ages.

The first assembly took place in 1936 at Oslo, Norway. The recipients were Lars Ahlfors of Finland and Jesse Douglas of the United States.

The second assembly would take place in 1950 at Cambridge, Massachusetts. One could ask: Why did they wait so long to hold another assembly? When one looks at the time frame between 1936 and 1950, there was World War II. World War II ended in 1945.

At the 1950 assembly, the winners were Laurent Schwartz of France and Atle Selberg of Norway.

The most recent assembly was in 2006 at Madrid, Spain. The winners were Andrei Okounkov of Russia, Grigori Perelman of Russia, Terence Tao of Australia, and Wendelin Werner of France. Perelman declined his medal. The next assembly should take place in 2010.

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