Hungarian-born mathematician collects 2005 Abel Prize

May 27, 2005

Brussels, 26 May 2005

The Hungarian-born research Peter Lax was presented with the 2005 Abel Prize for mathematics by the Crown Prince Regent of Norway at a ceremony in Oslo on 24 May.

The 780,000 euro award is the biggest prize in mathematics - a field overlooked by the Nobel Prizes. Professor Lax was selected for the honour 'for his groundbreaking contributions to the theory and application of partial differential equations and for the computation of their solutions.'

Differential equations are the basis for our scientific understanding of nature, and while linear equations are reasonably well understood, nonlinear equations of the kind that arise in fields such as aerodynamics, meteorology and elasticity are much more complex. In the 1950s and 1960s, Professor Lax's work paved the way for the modern theory of nonlinear equations of this type.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1926, Peter Lax moved to the US with his parents at the age of 15, and in 1945 he joined the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, where the US successfully developed the world's first atomic bomb. After receiving his PhD from New York University in 1949, Professor Lax began work at the mathematics institute established by his thesis adviser Richard Courant.

As well as his principal work, Professor Lax is also known for his introduction of the Lax-Friedrichs and Lax-Wendroff numerical schemes for computing solutions, which led to further theoretical developments as well as practical applications from weather prediction to aircraft design. The 'Lax Equivalence Theorem', furthermore, is described as 'a cornerstone of modern numerical analysis', and his work on scattering and the long-term behaviour of solutions provided not only a framework for applied mathematics, but also led to new insights in pure mathematics.

The range and variety of his achievements explain why many consider Professor Lax to be the most versatile mathematician of his generation. In it's citation for the award, the Abel Prize board said: 'Peter D. Lax stands out in joining together pure and applied mathematics, combining a deep understanding of analysis with an extraordinary capacity to find unifying concepts. He has had a profound influence, not only by his research, but also by his writing, his lifelong commitment to education and his generosity to younger mathematicians.'

John Ball, President of the International Mathematical Union, concluded: 'He has been an inspiration to me ever since I was a graduate. Lax has a great talent. He finds unifying ideas which then set the framework for other mathematicians.'

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