Esteemed Minister
Dear Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen

The creation of the Abel Prize by the Norwegian Government is a major event for the Mathematics Community worldwide. Since the Abel Prize is comparable with the Nobel Prizes and will be awarded annually, it will enhance the visibility of Mathematics and heighten the esteem in which Mathematics is held.

Let me say that I am speaking here both as the President of the European Mathematical Society, the "EMS", which reaches out from Iceland to Russia and from Norway in the North to Israel and Spain in the South, and also for the whole community of mathematicians world-wide.

I will not say much about Abel himself, since during this week many people, who are much more knowledgeable than I am, have explained the wealth of his work and the impact that it has on research even today.

However I would like to quote from the letter that EMS wrote in support of the creation of the Abel Prize:

Abel died at 26, of tuberculosis, one of the most tragic early deaths in the history of mathematics. Like the very greatest scientists, his ideas have so permeated mathematics that one is no longer aware where they com from.

In his short life, he revolutionized the theory of equations, complex analysis, number theory and algebraic geometry. One extraordinary result he proved was the impossibility of solving polynomial equations of degree greater than four. This came out of his study of groups of symmetries for the roots of a polynomial. Group theory, one of the central themes of modern mathematics, grew in part from this work.

He is also responsible for the deepest work on algebraic integrals of the 19th century. AbelÕs theorem, describing when two sets of points on a Riemann surface are respectively the zeroes and poles of a meromorphic function, in terms of integrals, is one of the basic results of algebraic geometry. One could not do algebraic geometry without the notion of Abelian variety, which grew out of this work.

I thank the Norwegian Government on behalf of the world-wide community of mathematicians for their courageous and generous gift. ‘Courageous’, because in most countries it is unfashionable for politicians to put any emphasis on the importance of Mathematics; ‘generous’, because the funds provided consist of the incredible sum of 200 million NOK.

This will result in an annual Prize valued at approximately 6 million NOK, or around 800.000 Euro. Our thanks go too to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for undertaking the difficult task of establishing procedures for finding the best recipients for the Abel Prize. I would also like to thank all our Norwegian colleagues who helped to bring the Abel Prize into existence.

The EMS is of course proud that it has been able to support the idea of the Abel Prize.

The Abel Committee that will nominate the prize-winner will have five members. We believe that it was wise to decide that it should consist mainly of international members - this will heighten esteem for the Prize.

EMS and IMU, the "International Mathematical Union", have been asked to propose ‘outstanding scientists in the field of Mathematics’ for the Abel Committee. I assure you that EMS is extremely happy to participate in this process - we shall carry out this duty with great care and responsibility. Already last Monday Professor Lars Wall¿e (the President of the Academy), Professor Erling St¿rmer (Norwegian National Committee of IMU) and Professor Ragni Piene (representing the mathematicians in the Academy) met Professor Phillip Griffiths (Secretary of the IMU) and myself to discuss the selection of the first Abel Committee. I am extremely confident that an excellent Committee will be found so that we shall have a worthy recipient of the Prize next year.

The guidelines to the Prize state that "The Prize shall contribute towards raising the status of mathematics in society and stimulating the interest of children and young people in mathematics".

I can assure the Norwegian Government that the EMS will help in the promotion of the Prize and the furtherance of the goals it was set up for. We shall try to use it to motivate young people to look into the beauty of Mathematics. For instance, when I gave my last lecture in Zurich before coming here I told my students that I would be giving this speech here, and that maybe one of them would be an Abel prize winner in 40 or 50 years!

It was said by Professor Jens Erik Fenstad that one aim of the Prize is to raise the name of Niels Hernik Abel to the level of Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch. Clearly, considering Abels contribution to Mathematics he is on that level already among mathematicians. However it is more difficult to bring great achievements in Mathematics to public notice than it is in literature and painting. EMS is committed to achieve this goal using the Abel prize.

Let me thank again the Norwegian people for holding their hero Niels Henrik Abel in such high esteem and donating to the world the Abel Prize.

 

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