The Prize is named after early 19th century Norwegian mathematician Nils Henrik Abel, and is awarded annually by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters. It is regarded within science to be as significant as a Nobel Prize, though it is newer.
In mathematics lingo, the 2014 Prize recognizes Sinai’s “fundamental contributions to dynamical systems, ergodic theory and mathematical physics”. In everyday language, he has demonstrated an ability to see order in chaos.
Yakov Grigoevich Sinai was born in Moscow in 1935 into an academic family. His parents were both microbiologists, and his grandfather was head of a mathematics department at Moscow State University. He early showed an aptitude for mathematics, earning his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees at Moscow State University. Together with his thesis adviser, famed mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov (1903-1987), he showed that unpredictability can be described mathematically, even for unpredictable dynamic systems.
Sinai started his career at Moscow State University, going on to the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics. He was appointed to a professorship at Princeton University in 1993, while retaining his position at the Landau Institute. The mathematician has received many awards. These include the Boltzmann Medal in 1986, the Wolf Prize in 1997, the Nemmers Prize in 2002, and now the Abel Prize.
The Abel Prize commemorates the significant contributions to mathematics by Nils Henrik Abel (1802-1829). Though largely unrecognized in his lifetime, Abel is most famed for the first complete proof of the impossibility of solving the general quintic equation – a problem that then had been unresolved for 250 years. He also contributed significantly to other fields within mathematics, and 24 mathematical entities he discovered bear his name.
French mathematician Charles Hermite (1822-1901), famed for having been the first to prove that e, the basis of natural logarithms, is a transcendental number (one that cannot be produced by algebraic operations), once remarked that “Abel has left mathematicians enough to keep them busy for five hundred years”.
This article was first published in The Foreigner