Hungarian professor wins prestigious prize, gets $1m
Rutgers University professor Endre Szemerédi has won the Abel Prize for his contributions to discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science. The prize comes with a cash award of $1 million.
The international prize is given annually to recognize "contributions of extraordinary depth and influence to the mathematical sciences," according to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, which makes the award. In announcing the prize, the academy said it recognizes Szemerédi’s "profound and lasting impact" on discrete mathematics, "the study of structures such as graphs, sequences, permutations and geometric configurations which form the foundation of theoretical computer science."
A member of Rutgers’ Department of Computer Science since 1986, Szemerédi is also a permanent research fellow at the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, his native city.
Szemerédi, 71, is currently in Hungary and could not be reached for comment, but in a 2008 Star-Ledger interview, he made a shocking revelation.
"I never use computers," he said. "That is a little bit contradictory, but that is the truth."
Szemerédi will receive the prize in Oslo on May 22 from Norway’s King Harald.
Credited with being one of the first scientists to recognize the importance of theoretical computer science, he has published more than 200 scientific articles and made numerous discoveries, including his namesake Szemerédi’s Theorem.
The Abel Committee said "Szemerédi’s approach to mathematics exemplifies the strong Hungarian problem-solving tradition. The theoretical impact of his work has been a game-changer."
Although he is recognized for his influence on today’s mathematics, Szemerédi came to the field late. He attended medical school for a year and worked in a factory before studying mathematics at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, according to his biography from the academy. He earned his master’s degree in 1965 and a doctorate from Moscow State University in 1970.
In the book, "An Irregular Mind," published in conjunction with a conference in Budapest in 2010 that celebrated Szemerédi’s 70th birthday, the researcher is described as having "a brain that is wired differently than for most mathematicians. Many of us admire his unique way of thinking, his extraordinary vision."
Szemerédi has won numerous prizes and is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
First awarded in 2003, the Abel Prize honors outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics and the mathematical aspects of computer science, physics, probability, numerical analysis, scientific computing and statistics. It is named for Niels Henrik Abel, an esteemed Norwegian mathematician who died of tuberculosis at age 26 in 1829.