Two Jewish professors awarded ‘math Nobel’


Hebrew University Prof. Hillel Furstenberg has become the first Israeli to win the Abel Prize, known as the Nobel Prize of mathematics with Yale’s Gregory Margulis

Two Jewish professors, Hillel Furstenberg from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Grigory Margulis of Yale University will share the Abel Prize, known as the Nobel Prize of mathematics.

The award was given on Wednesday by the Norwegian Academy of Science “for pioneering the use of methods from probability and dynamics in group theory, number theory, and combinatorics.”

Furstenberg and Margulis will share the prize of 7.5 million Norwegian kroners ($834,000).

The prestigious prize is awarded annually to outstanding mathematicians from all over the world by the King of Norway.

The selection of winners is based on the recommendation of a special committee consisting of five renowned mathematicians and international recognition.

When Furstenberg, 84, received the call informing him that he has awarded the Abel Prize, he said: “My goodness, thank you very much.” See the YouTube video.

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Hans Munthe-Kaas, chair of the Abel committee said: “Furstenberg and Margulis stunned the mathematical world by their ingenious use of probabilistic methods and random walks to solve deep problems in diverse areas of mathematics. This has opened up a wealth of new results, such as the existence of long arithmetic progressions of prime numbers, understanding the structure of lattices in Lie groups, and the construction of expander graphs  with applications to communication  technology and computer science, to mention a few.”

Munthe-Kaas added: “The works of Furstenberg and Margulis have demonstrated the effectiveness of crossing boundaries between separate mathematical disciplines and brought down the traditional wall between pure and applied mathematics.”

Hillel Furstenberg

Professor Hillel Furstenberg was born in 1935 in Berlin. Shortly after Kristallnacht, his family escaped Nazi Germany to the United States.

Sadly, his father did not survive the journey, and Furstenberg grew up with his mother and sister in an orthodox community in New York.

He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at the age of 20 at Yeshiva University. When Hillel Furstenberg published one of his early papers, a rumor circulated that he was not an individual but instead a pseudonym for a group of mathematicians. The paper contained ideas from so many different areas, surely it could not possibly be the work of one man?

Following a career in mathematics at several universities in the U.S., in 1965 he immigrated as a professor to Israel at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at the Hebrew University, where he stayed until his retirement in 2003.

Spending most of his career in Israel, Furstenberg helped establish the country as a world center for mathematics. Furstenberg has won the  Rothschild Award, Israel Prize, the Wolf Prize and the EMT Award.

Gregory Margulis
Gregory Margulis was born in Moscow in 1946. In 1978, at only 32 years old, he won the Fields Medal but was unable to come to Helsinki for Medal since the Soviet authorities refused him a visa.

Although he was one of the top young mathematicians in the Soviet Union, being of Jewish origin Margulis was unable to find a job at Moscow University.

Instead, he found work at the Institute for Problems in Information Transmission. During the 1980s he visited academic institutions in Europe and the U.S. before settling at Yale in 1991, where he has been ever since.
Margulis is a winner of the Lobachevsky Prize and the Wolf Prize.

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