No Nobel for mathematicians?
The first thing that comes to mind when science awards are mentioned is the Nobel Prizes, but it is surprising to many that the Nobel Prize has not been awarded for mathematics, which some call the “foundation of the sciences”. Let’s get into the details of the Fields Medals.
Let us tell here a ridiculous and widespread gossip that is explained as the reason for this; When Swedish mathematician Costa Magnus Mittag Leffler seduces Alfred Nobel’s wife, Nobel avenges his cheating on all mathematicians, not just Mittag-Leffler.
The thought that Mittag Leffler might one day win the prize perhaps drove him crazy, and to prevent this, he did not testify to a prize in mathematics.
What makes this story ridiculous is that Alfred Nobel never married. Another story from Sweden mentions the conflict between Mittag Leffler and Nobel.
Nobel refused to award a prize in mathematics, thinking that Mittag Leffler, Sweden’s foremost mathematician, might one day win the Nobel.
Lars Garding and Lars Hörmander, “Why No Nobel Prize in Mathematics?” In his articles (Why Is There No Nobel Prize in Mathematics?) (Mathematical Intelligencer, 7:3, 1985) he says that neither story is true.
The authors point out that Mittag-Leffler and Nobel had almost no relationship because Nobel emigrated from Sweden in 1865, while Mittag Leffler was still a student at that time.
Their answer to this question is: “It never occurred to Nobel to award a prize in mathematics for natural reasons.”
Medal for Mathematicians
The history of the Fields Medals, which is not well known outside the world of mathematics and is called the Nobel of mathematics, is also quite old.
Before moving on to the medals, let’s get to know the Fields, which is named after the award.
John Charles Fields
Born on May 14, 1863, in Hamilton, Canada, Fields was one of the first Canadian research mathematicians. After graduating from the University of Toronto Mathematics Department in 1884, he went to John Hopkins University in the USA and received his doctorate from this school in 1887.
After teaching at Alegheny College from 1889 to 1892, he went to Europe to continue his studies.
Here he met mathematicians such as Fuchs, Frobenius, Hensel, Schwarz and Max Planck, which increased his scientific competence.
He was appointed research professor in 1923 at the University of Toronto, where he began teaching in 1902, and remained there until his death on August 9, 1932.
Fields, who was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1907 and to the Royal Society of London in 1913, chaired the International Congress of Mathematicians in Toronto in 1924.
Fields, who studies functions with complex variables, has a work called “Theory of the Algebraic Functions of a Complex Variable (1906)”.
The biggest meeting of the world of mathematics is the International Mathematics Congress, which has been held every four years since 1897. The chairman of the convention that met in Toronto in 1924, J.C. Fields has proposed a mathematics medal.
He emphasized that the mathematician who will receive the award has both achieved great success and that he is a mathematician who is thought to have other great achievements in the future.
At the congress held in Zurich in 1932, Fields’ proposal was accepted and the medal was named after Fields, who made the proposal.
It was decided that the medals would be awarded to two mathematicians under the age of 40 at each mathematics congress (ie, every four years).
The medal was to be 25 centimeters in diameter and gold plated. The committee that will determine the mathematicians who will receive the medal will be determined at the congress and this committee will determine who will be given the award at the next congress.
The first medals were awarded at the Oslo meeting in 1396. No other medals were awarded until 1950 due to the Second World War.
Due to the rapid development in mathematics, it was decided to increase the number of medals to be given at the 1966 congress to four.
The medals were most recently presented at the opening ceremony of the International Congress of Mathematics held in Rio De Janeiro on March 29, 2018.
When we take a look at the medal winners since 1936, we see that mathematicians from the USA lead the way. In terms of universities, it is observed that Princeton University stands out.
The Institute for Advanced Studies became the focus of the press with the arrival of Einstein, and it was full of journalists for a long time.
Einstein had stated many times that he was uncomfortable with the intense interest shown by the press here.
I don’t know if it is such a boring environment for other scientists, but 20. The fact that many of the century’s leading scientists spent some time in their lives at Princeton made the school very attractive to basic science students.
Yet it was at this university that Andrew Wiles became famous for proving Fermat’s last theorem, but did not receive the Fields Medal because Wiles was over 40.
Wasn’t Mathematics Unfinished?
In fact, this is a question that is asked very little, because the common belief in the society does not even arouse suspicion in most people.
“What is left to be found in mathematics? Everything has been found!” One of the things that makes giving a prize in mathematics meaningful is to show that this belief is not actually true.
Mathematics, which is estimated to prove several hundred thousand theorems a year, cannot find even a few lines in the newspapers because it is not well-known, no matter how important its discoveries are.
Only people who deal with the subject are aware of new inventions and only they enjoy it.
It can be said that the reason why the new discoveries in mathematics cause almost no change in human life is the reason for the indifference in the society, but it cannot be said that many new discoveries in astrophysics, which find huge places on the pages of newspapers and enter the main news bulletins of television, also change our lives.
This time, a question arises; Is today’s math just a game played by mathematicians among themselves, which only serves to entertain a few people?
History shows that mathematics subjects that did not directly take their questions from other sciences or industry were seen as completely useless in the eyes of people, yet many people were interested in them, and the theories that emerged as a result of these efforts provided answers to many questions of mankind long after their emergence.
There are also mathematicians who do not care at all whether everything in mathematics will one day be useful. G.H. In his book “A Mathematician’s Defense”, Hardy said that the mathematics done would not be beautiful and that the criterion in mathematics was not usefulness as in other sciences, but beauty as in art.
One way or another, there are thousands of people dealing with mathematics today, and mathematics is on a path that seems impossible to finish, and four Fields Medals awarded every four years to today’s great mathematicians are not enough.