“We were told that we couldn’t do math because we were women. But I liked doing what I wasn’t supposed to do. It was a sort of legitimate rebellion.” Karen Uhlenbeck's has become the first woman to win the prestigious Abel Prize, the mathematical equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Her groundbreaking work has led to some of the most important advances in mathematics in the last 40 years, namely in the area of geometric analysis.
The Abel Prize is awarded annually to mathematicians whose contributions to the field are of “extraordinary depth and influence.” Uhlenbeck is the first female awardee in the Abel’s 16-year history, since its inception in 2003.
She is honoured for “the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.” Growing up, Uhlenbeck never envisioned herself as a mathematician. Instead, as a young woman, she was more interested in reading hefty scientific tomes. But she changed her mind after doing an honours math course, and in 1968, she earned a PhD in mathematics.
As one of the few women in her program, she experienced considerable pushback from male peers and professors. She now spearheads outreach and mentoring campaigns to support women in maths.
Congratulations, Karen Uhlenbeck!! You can read more of this story, including Uhlenbeck's field of mathematics, at @Smithsonian
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