Fields Medal

Paradoxical and unfair as this fact is, but mathematicians, knights of the "queen of sciences", will never be awarded the most prestigious Nobel Prize awarded annually by the Swedish Academy for outstanding scientific achievements. Nobody will dress them in black academic gowns, prepared especially for the solemn day of awards ceremony, the Swedish king will not congratulate them on their new title and none of them will deliver the traditional Nobel lecture.

One would think: in what way are they less dignified than physicists, chemists, biologists, physicians... Alas, there is not, never was and will never be a Nobel Prize in mathematics, for this is the will of its founder. How did mathematicians spite the great inventor of dynamite to compel him to such a step? Especially taking into account the fact that mathematics was listed among the prize-winning (and thus "premiere") sciences in the first version of Nobel’s will. Historians cite two reasons for this decision.

The first (French-American) version: the great Swedish mathematician Mittag-Leffler persistently and not quite unsuccessfully courted Nobel’s wife. Upon hearing this, the founder decided to take revenge on the perpetrator and his science in such a peculiar way.

The second (Swedish) version: at the time Nobel made up his testament, Mittag-Leffler was the unquestioned leader of Swedish mathematics. Nobel, of course, knew it, as well as the fact that, having established the award in mathematics, he would thereby create a real presupposition for awarding it to Mittag-Leffler, towards whom (as proven), and he experienced a deep personal dislike for reasons that different from the above-mentioned.

This almost detective story anyway has for a long time left math without an international award. The first person to not only notices this blatant misunderstanding for the science, but also to try and fix it was John Charles Fields.

He was born on May 14, 1863 in Hamilton, Canada. After graduating from the Toronto University and presenting a thesis, he worked for many years as a professor of mathematics in various universities in the New World. In 1923-1932 Fields was the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of International Mathematical Congresses. It was then that the idea to fill the gap, artificially created Nobel, by establishing an international award for the most outstanding results in the domain of mathematics, occurred to Fields. The organizing committee of the next International Congress of Mathematicians unanimously supported the proposal, and early next year, in 1932 in Toronto, J. Charles Fields’ memorandum «International Medals for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics» saw the light. To emphasize the international character of the medal, it was decided on purpose not to assign to it the name of any of the great mathematicians of the past.

In September 1932 at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich Fields’ proposal was definitely approved. Unfortunately, he did not live a month to this momentous event. Most of his fortune Fields bequeathed to the International Mathematical Union to create the bonus fund. Given Fields’ substantial contribution in establishing the prize, it was decided to assign his name to the highest award in mathematics. Unlike the Nobel prizes, awarded, as a rule, to venerable scientists, it was decided to award the Fields Medal to young mathematicians (under 40 years), and not every year but every four years during the International Congress of Mathematicians.


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