King Harald V of Norway presented the 2012 Abel Prize to Hungarian-American mathematician Endre Szemerédi at a ceremony in Oslo on Tuesday. The Abel Committee at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters awarded the prestigious prize to 71 year-old Szemerédi "for his fundamental contributions to discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science, and in recognition of the profound and lasting impact of these contributions on additive number theory and ergodic theory."
Endre Szemerédi (Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, and Department of Computer Science, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA) is specialized in the field of discrete mathematics, the study of structures such as graphs, sequences, permutations, and geometric configurations.
The Abel Prize recognizes contributions of extraordinary depth and influence to the mathematical sciences and has been awarded annually since 2003. It carries a cash award of NOK 6,000,000 (close to EUR 800,000 or USD 1 million).
Discrete mathematics is the study of structures such as graphs, sequences, permutations, and geometric configurations. The mathematics of such structures forms the foundation of theoretical computer science and information theory. Szemerédi was one of the first to realize the importance of theoretical computer science. He has also made deep, important, and influential contributions to many other branches of mathematics and has published over 200 scientific articles.
The Abel Prize committee describes Endre Szemerédi as a mathematician with exceptional research power and his influence on today’s mathematics is enormous. Yet, as a mathematician, Szemerédi started out late. He attended medical school for a year, and worked in a factory before he switched over to mathematics. His extraordinary talent was discovered when he was a young student in Budapest by his mentor Paul Erdõs. Szemerédi lived up to his mentor’s great expectations by proving several fundamental theorems of tremendous importance. Many of his results have generated research for the future and have laid the foundations for new directions in mathematics.
Many of his discoveries carry his name. One of the most important is Szemerédi's Theorem, which shows that in any set of integers with positive density, there are arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions. Szemerédi’s proof was a masterpiece of combinatorial reasoning, and was immediately recognized to be of exceptional depth and importance. A key step in the proof, now known as the Szemerédi Regularity Lemma, is a structural classification of large graphs.
An Irregular Mind
In 2010, on the occasion of Szemerédi’s 70th birthday, the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics and the János Bolyai Mathematical Society organized a conference in Budapest to celebrate his achievements. In the book, “An Irregular Mind”, published prior to the conference, it is stated that “Szemerédi has an ‘irregular mind’; his brain is wired differently than for most mathematicians. Many of us admire his unique way of thinking, his extraordinary vision.”
As the Abel Committee notes, “Szemerédi's approach to mathematics exemplifies the strong Hungarian problem-solving tradition. Yet, the theoretical impact of his work has been a game-changer.”