Professor talks Abel Award, passion for mathematics

NYU mathematics emeritus professor Louis Nirenberg has been co-awarded the 2015 Abel Prize in Mathematics along with John Nash, a senior research mathematician at Princeton. Nirenberg received the award for his work in the field of partial differential equations and applications in geometry and geometric analysis.

Nirenberg’s field involves creating mathematical models of scientific theories and complex analyses of how fluids move. Though he is now a well respected mathematician, Nirenberg had originally wanted to become a physicist.

“After college I thought I’d study physics but I got offered a graduate fellowship in mathematics here at NYU,” Nirenberg said. “I still have an interest in physics, and I have an enormous admiration for physicists.”

Nirenberg acknowledged that he has always been interested in mathematics beginning at a very young age.


“My father wanted me to learn Hebrew and he had his friend come to give me Hebrew lessons, but his friend liked mathematics,” Nirenberg said. “He would bring mathematical puzzles to our lessons and I would solve them. Alas, I never learned Hebrew.”

Although Nirenberg cannot pinpoint one discovery as his most exciting, he stressed how much he enjoys his work, despite how often he may get stuck on a problem.

“Eventually something works, and it’s a beautiful moment,” Nirenberg said. “It’s enormous fun to do work in mathematics, new things are being discovered all the time. I consider myself very lucky to get paid doing something that I love. It’s quite a joy really.”

As the fourth person from NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences to win the Abel Award in its 10-year history, Nirenberg attributes much of his success to the environment at the Courant Institute.

“My whole career has been at NYU,” Nirenberg said. “This institute is an excellent place for mathematics. The atmosphere is very warm and cordial.”

Sylvain Cappell, a mathematics professor at the Courant Institute, says Nirenburg is a very amiable and open individual.

“Professor Louis Nirenberg is doubly famous among mathematicians,” Cappell said. “It is both professionally, for the depth of his foundational, creative research contributions, as well as personally, for his great kindness and distinctive warmth.”

Cappell added that along with being respected individual, Nirenberg has also been very helpful to others at the institute and has developed strong rapport with his colleagues.

“Professor Nirenberg has always been available to me and to colleagues and students to discuss new developments in mathematics and many other topics such as movies to share his excitement about them,” Cappell said. “His friendship has enriched my life, and indeed all our lives at Courant Institute. The award couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

Email Amanda Morris at [email protected]



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