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Able mathematician. Niels Henrik Abel commemorated on a Norwegian bank note.

For Mathematics, Abel = Nobel

Mathematicians have long groused about the lack of a Nobel Prize in math. The closest equivalent, the Fields Medal, is only awarded every 4 years, is restricted to the under-40 set, and comes with much less fanfare, not to mention cash.

But all that is about to change, courtesy of the Norwegian government. On 23 August, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced the establishment of a 200 million kroner ($22 million) fund for an annual "Abel Prize" in mathematics.

The fund is being set up to mark the 200th birthday of Norway's famous mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, who died in 1829 at the age of 26. The prize will raise the awareness of mathematics as the "lingua franca for all science," says Arnfinn Laudal, a mathematician at the University of Oslo. Worth about $500,000--comparable to the Nobel purse--it will be administered by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and will be awarded annually starting in 2003.

The new prize "will change the landscape of mathematics," enthuses 1974 Fields Medal winner David Mumford. He thinks it will also be a big boost for math's public reputation. "Up to now, pure math especially has had very little PR and has been almost a private affair for its aficionados," he says.

Related sites

The Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters
The Abel Bicentennial Conference
The Fields Medal