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Israeli Professor Awarded Top Math Prize
Israeli-American Hillel Furstenberg, who was awarded the Abel Prize for mathematics, poses for a picture at his house in Jerusalem on March 18, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli Professor Awarded Top Math Prize

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced Wednesday that it will award the Abel Prize for mathematics to Israeli-American Hillel Furstenberg and Russian-American Gregory Margulis, both probability experts.

The pair were honored “for pioneering the use of methods from probability and dynamics in group theory, number theory and combinatorics,” the Academy said in a statement.

Furstenberg is a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and US National Academy of Sciences. The Abel Prize, often referred to as the Nobel of Mathematics, was established by the Government of Norway in 2001 to recognize contributions that are of “extraordinary depth and influence.” It carries a cash award of 7.5 million Norwegian Kroners ($834,000).

Furstenberg, a Berlin-born Kristallnacht survivor, is the first Israeli to win this prestigious prize. His family fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and settled in the United States. After teaching at several leading American universities, including Princeton, MIT and the University of Minnesota, Furstenberg moved to Israel in 1965 to join Hebrew University’s Einstein Institute of Mathematics. This move helped establish Israel as a world center for mathematics, and Furstenberg went on to win the Israel Prize in 1993 and the Wolf Prize in 2007.

“Professor Furstenberg’s Abel Prize is a true honor for Hebrew University and for Israel, as a whole”, shared Hebrew University President Professor Asher Cohen. “Hillel is not only a world-class mathematician but a mensch and mentor to scores of students who have already changed the face of mathematics. We couldn’t be prouder of his award, a Nobel-level achievement.”

Like Furstenberg, Russian-born Margulis was also heralded as a leading mathematician from a young age. However, being Jewish in the Soviet Union meant Margulis was unable to secure a job at Moscow University and he ultimately emigrated to the United States and began working at Yale University. Due to the 10 years’ age difference between them and to travel restrictions in the Soviet Union, the two laureates did not formally collaborate, however, they did influence each other’s work.

This year’s Abel Prize Award Ceremony will take place at a later date when King Harald V of Norway will present the Abel Prize to the laureates. The original ceremony, scheduled for May 19, has been postponed due to the corona outbreak.

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