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Why is there no Nobel Prize in mathematics?

By Oli Usher, on 13 August 2014

Fields medalProf Mark Ronan (UCL Mathematics) asks a common question: why is there no Nobel Prize in Mathematics?

The Fields Medal, awarded today to Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, Martin Hairer and Maryam Mirzakhani is sometimes compared to the Nobel Prizes, but it’s restricted to under-40s and exists to encourage research among (relatively) early-career mathematicians, not to recognise a lifetime’s achievement. (UCL has done rather well out of the Fields Medal in the past, with three winners among former staff and students.)

Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, he ponders:

One explanation is that the Swedish mathematician Mittag-Leffler had an affair with Nobel’s wife. This sounds plausible, until one discovers that Nobel was unmarried. From Sweden I now hear a fanciful story that the attractive mathematician Sofia Kovaleskaya rebuffed Nobel’s advances. Yet she died in 1891 – years before his bequest.


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