Since its creation in 2003, the most prestigious prize in mathematics has been given to a man year after year. That all changed this week, however, when a mathematician by the name of Karen Uhleneck was awarded this year’s Abel Prize, the mathematics prize modeled after the Nobels. The Abel Prize is awarded by the King of Norway to mathematicians who have greatly influenced their field, and includes a cash reward of about $700,000.
Uhlenbeck, 76, is known for her work with partial differential equations. However, her decades-long career spans multiple disciplines, including physics, geometry and quantum theory. One of her most famous contributions was her theories of predictive mathematics inspired by soap bubbles. The thin, curved surface area of a soap bubble is an example of a “minimal surface,” a surface that forms itself into a shape that takes up the least amount of area. Examining how these surfaces behave can help researchers better understand a wide amount of phenomena across a wide array of scientific studies.