Karen Uhlenbeck Awarded Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement

October 21, 2019 • by Cason Hunwick
Karen Uhlenbeck stands in front of a blackboard with mathematical formulas written in chalk behind her

University of Texas at Austin professor emerita and Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in Mathematics Karen Uhlenbeck will receive the American Mathematical Society's (AMS) 2020 Leroy P. Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

The Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement is awarded to mathematicians who have made a significant impact in the field across multiple domains, including through their research, their influence on the field and their training of doctoral students.

"Karen Uhlenbeck's mathematics has laid the foundation for a tremendous range of research in differential geometry and geometric analysis over the past four decades," the American Mathematical Society wrote in an announcement today about the award. The statement went on to acknowledge Uhlenbeck's work to "support young mathematicians and strengthen the mathematical community. … She has expanded the reach and visibility of women in mathematics, and is an inspiration to all mathematicians."

This is the second major prize announced this year for Uhlenbeck, who taught at UT Austin from 1987 until her retirement in 2014. In May, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters awarded her the top international prize in mathematics, the Abel Prize.

"I have had ample opportunity in the past year to review my mathematical career, and I continue to be amazed at how it all worked out," Uhlenbeck said. "I would never have landed in this position without the women activists, as well as the mathematicians who dedicated large chunks of their lives towards opening up the profession to include women."

Uhlenbeck is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a recipient of the National Medal of Science and the winner of the 2007 Steele Prize for a Seminal Contribution to Research, also given by the American Mathematical Society. She is the second woman to receive the Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

In addition to her research, she is a noted champion for fostering growth and inclusion in the mathematics community. A co-founder of the Park City Mathematical Institute and of the Women and Mathematics Program at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Uhlenbeck also helped launch several UT Austin outreach initiatives, including the Sunday Morning Math Group and the Distinguished Women in Mathematics lecture series.

"The years I spent at the University of Texas, with endowment funds donated by Peter O'Donnell, gave me the opportunity to help build a major mathematics department and to become involved in many outreach projects," Uhlenbeck said.

Uhlenbeck is the third UT Austin faculty member to be selected for the Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement. The late professor emeritus John Tate won it in 1995, and current professor Luis Caffarelli received it in 2009.

AMS will honor Uhlenbeck on January 16 at the 2020 Joint Mathematics meeting in Denver.


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