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Hebrew University professor first Israeli to win top mathematics medal considered equivalent to Nobel

Prof. Elon Lindenstrauss of the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem today received the Fields Medal for 2010 – a prize regarded as the “Nobel Prize” in mathematics that is awarded once in four years. He was the first Israeli to be awarded the medal.

The Fields Prize is given to scholars up to the age of 40 for outstanding mathematical achievement. Prof. Lindenstrauss received the medal today in Hyderabad, India, at the opening of the International Congress of Mathematicians, which is convened every four years by the International Mathematical Union. The medal was presented to him by Shrimati Pratibha Patil, the president of India,

The Fields Medal is named for Prof. J. C. Fields, a mathematician at the University of Toronto who was secretary of the 1924 International Congress of Mathematicians in that city. He donated funds establishing the medal and outlined the criteria for earning it – that it would go to someone with great future potential and who had already demonstrated significant achievements in the field. The medal this year was awarded to three others in addition to Lindenstrauss..

Prof. Lindenstrauss is a second generation mathematician. His father, Prof Joram Lindenstrauss, is a professor emeritus at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at the Hebrew University, an Israel Prize winner for mathematics, and a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Prof. Elon Lindenstrauss is a graduate of the Talpiot program for outstanding students in the Israel Air Force, a reserve major in the Israel Defense Forces, and a winner of the Israel Defense Prize. Born in 1970, he has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics, all earned at the Hebrew University. After receiving his Ph.D. he worked at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, .N.J., and at Stanford University in the US. He also held an appointment as a professor at Princeton University. He has been a professor at the Hebrew University since 2008. He is married and the father of three children. The family lives in Jerusalem.

Prof. Lindenstrauss has won a number of prizes in the past, beginning with his work as a student and including prizes from professional mathematical associations in Europe and Israel.

Prof. Alex Lubotzky, a colleague at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at the Hebrew University, commented: “Prof. Lindenstrauss received the Fields Medal in recognition of his research solving some of the most difficult and complex problems in number theory.” He emphasized that Lindenstrauss’ work “has a strong basis in methods developed by mathematicians at the Hebrew University.”

Lubotzky said that despite the fact that Israeli school children have ranked poorly in recent years in international tests in mathematics, Israel is still among the elite in outstanding mathematical research. He calls mathematics the “secular Talmud,” in that it is learning for its own sake, but nevertheless history has shown that this learning has brought a great deal of practical benefit tor humanity.

The proof of the outstanding achievement of Israel in mathematics, he said, can be seen in the leading role that Israeli mathematicians play in the Intentional Mathematical Union, the membership in which is determined on the basis of the quality and quantity of research by individuals. “Israel is one of the ten largest and leading state delegations represented in the organization,” he noted.

Hebrew University President Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said today that “Israel is indeed a mathematics ‘power,’ but hadn’t yet won this top Fields Medal until now. The age limit of 40 for winning it is definitely an obstacle for young Israeli researchers who have to begin their academic careers later than others because of their military obligations,” he pointed out. Even so, he said, Prof. Lindenstrauss has shown that talented scientists can overcome this limitation. He said that people such as Lindenstrauss should be considered Israeli “cultural heroes.”

The Einstein Institute of Mathematics at the Hebrew University was founded in 1925, concurrent with the opening of the university. The institute is considered the best in its field in Israel, said Prof. Lubotzky, with its members having won top international awards. Among them is Prof. Robert J. Aumann, who is a Nobel Prize winner. The institute also included two winners of the Wolf Prize, which is awarded in Israel to scientists from around the world. Six of the institute members were Israel Prize winners, and many others are members of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the last two years five of the institute’s researchers won European Union scientific grants, which is an extraordinary achievement, said Lubotzky.

(Note: A photo of Prof. Lindenstrauss is available via e-mail upon request. An additional photo and video of his receipt of the medal in India is expected to be available later for those requesting it. A link to a short video about Prof. Lindenstrauss and the Hebrew University Einstein Institute of Mathematics is now available for viewing at

Jerry Barach | Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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