Wendelin Werner has been awarded the Fields Medal, often called
the “Nobel Prize for mathematics”, during the 2006 International
Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in Madrid. Mr Werner received
the accolade, reserved for researchers under the age of 40,
for his work on probability theory and classical complex analysis.
Other winners this year included Andrei Okounkov, Grigori Perelman
and Terence Tao.
Mr Werner, a German–born French citizen, is a professor
and researcher at the Laboratoire de mathématiques of
the Orsay Faculty of Science in Paris. His work deals with subjects
that are found in the sometimes grey area where maths and physics
meet. He was specifically recognised by the ICM for his elaborations
on stochastic Loewner evolution, the geometry of two–dimensional
Brownian motion and conformal field theory, all areas of relevance
to modern physics. One common, real world example of his work
can be described as the application of probability theory to
the behaviour of water molecules as they enter a transitional
phase when going from liquid to vapour.
Even though physicists have developed theories in recent years
concerning phenomena in such states, it wasn't until the
work of Mr Werner and his collaborators that a mathematically
rigorous approach was developed that provides a direct geometric
picture of systems under such conditions.
“One aspect of our work has been to develop new mathematical
concepts and ideas that allowed to get some new insight and
to prove the physicists' predictions,” he was quoted
as saying after receiving his prize.
Because his work was done in close cooperation with others in
the maths community, Mr Werner was quick to acknowledge his
“My first thought was that this prize was for my work,
and since a lot of this work was done in collaboration with
Greg Lawler and Oded Schramm, that this medal was also theirs
(even if I am the only one under the age limit).”
The prize is open to young scientists as a way of fostering new and innovative research. Being aware of this, Mr Werner wondered how the award would affect his work in the future.
“It looks like a big responsibility for me and maybe a
little bit of pressure to deliver nice things. I may want to
tackle too difficult problems and end up being stuck...,”
As for reflections on the more immediate future, “I also
wonder if it will change the way students will listen in my
The ICM received an unusual amount of press this year thanks
to Russian Grigory Perelman, who declined his own Fields Medal.
It is widely believed that Mr Perelman has solved one of mathematics'
great mysteries, the Poincare conjecture.
Mr Werner will add his Fields Medal to a distinguished list of honours he has received throughout his career. His has also been awarded the European Mathematical Society Prize (2000), the Fermat Prize (2003), the Loève Prize (2005) and the Polya Prize (2006).
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