UF Math Professor Wins Norway’s Prestigious Abel Prize

Above: John Griggs Thompson.

Share This Story

Bookmark and ShareBookmark This
EmailEmail Story

Follow CLAS

Subscribe to the CLAS RSS Feed RSS Feed
Become a Fan of the CLAS Facebook Page FACEBOOK
Follow us on Twitter TWITTER

UF Math Professor Wins Norway’s Prestigious Abel Prize

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida math professor has won the world's most prestigious award in mathematics, it was announced Thursday morning.

UF Graduate Research Professor John Griggs Thompson and European mathematician Jacques Tits won the 2008 Abel Prize for Mathematics and will split the $1.2 million award, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced.

Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters President Ole Didrik Lærum called Thompson from Norway at 6 a.m. EDT to give him the good news.

Thompson was surprised to get the call but he had actually heard some gossip previously, he said this morning.

"I'm devoted to mathematics; it's my life's work, so to see the Norwegians recognize that, it puts mathematics on the map," Thompson said. "It's a win-win situation."

There is no Nobel Prize in mathematics, but the Abel prize is the closest equivalent. Created in 2003 and named after the Norwegian mathematician Neils Henrik Abel, the prize recognizes "outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics," according to the Norwegian Academy.

Thompson and Tits were awarded the Abel Prize for their contributions to what is called group theory, a branch of mathematics that focuses on the study of symmetry, such as the symmetry of geometric figures or algebraic equations. They have invented important new concepts and proved fundamental results in this field, according to the academy's announcement.

"The achievements of John Thompson and Jacques Tits are of extraordinary depth and influence. They complement each other and together form the backbone of modern group theory," the Abel committee stated in the announcement.

Krishnaswami Alladi, chairman of UF's mathematics department, said the award contributes greatly to the department's and UF's international academic reputation.

"We take immense pride from this," he said. "The math department's reputation has been growing steadily in recent years, but having a faculty member win the Abel prize catapults us to another level entirely. It also speaks very highly of the research and scholarship of the math department and, more generally, of the entire university."

Thompson, 75, has been a professor at UF since 1993. He is the world's leading authority in group theory, which traces its origins to the work of 19th-century French mathematician Evariste Galois, who, while still in his teens, discovered fundamental symmetry properties related to the solution of polynomial equations.

Thompson's achievement in group theory began early, while he was still a graduate student in the 1950s at the University of Chicago. There, Thompson solved a famous 60-year-old problem in group theory.

According to Alladi, it was obvious from Thompson's doctoral thesis that "his ideas would lead to a new era in group theory."

That prediction was quickly borne out. In the 1960s, Thompson collaborated with famed mathematician Walter Feit to solve the so-called "odd order" problem. The proof, or mathematical argument of the solution, required a series of equations that filled 253 pages - an entire issue of the Pacific Journal of Mathematics.

Alladi said Thompson's achievements and leadership helped spur a worldwide effort among dozens of mathematicians to solve one of the biggest problems in mathematics, the classification of finite simple groups. That effort was completed in recent years, after four decades of intense investigation guided by Thompson, he said.

Thompson also has also been very active during his tenure at UF, Alladi said.

"He has helped us build a world-class group in algebra," Alladi said, adding that the department had founded a research professorship in his honor for top recent doctoral graduates in mathematics.

Solving the "odd order" problem won Thompson the American Mathematical Society's Cole Prize in 1966. Four years later, he won Fields Medal, one of the highest awards in mathematics. Many other awards and medals followed and, in 2000, Thompson was one of 12 recipients of the National Medal of Science awarded by President Bill Clinton.

Tits, the other recipient of the Abel prize, is a professor at the Collège de France.

A reception to celebrate the announcement is set for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 27 at UF's Keene Faculty Center. The event is free and open to the public, and expected attendees include UF President Bernie Machen and Berit Johne, counselor for science at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. Johne will read a congratulatory message from the Norwegian Ambassador.



Aaron Hoover


John Thompson, Thompson@math.ufl.edu, 352-335-3636

Krishna Alladi, alladi@math.ufl.edu, 352-514-6526

back to the 2008 news index >>

top >>

CLAS Navigation

News, Calendar of Events, Head of the CLAS, Submit News/Event, Media


CLAS Portals


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

2014 Turlington Hall
P.O Box 117300
Gainesville FL 32611
P: 352.392.0780
F: 352.392.3584