The Abel Prize is an international prize presented by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians. Named after Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829), the award was established in 2001 by the Government of Norway and complements the Holberg Prize in the humanities.
The Abel Prize has often been described as the mathematician’s “Nobel prize”. It comes with a monetary award of 6 millionNorwegian kroner (NOK) (approximately US$1 million). The prize board has also established an Abel symposium, administered by the Norwegian Mathematical Society. The award ceremony takes place in the Atrium of the University of Oslo Faculty of Law, where the Nobel Peace Prize was formerly awarded between 1947 and 1989.
A prize in honour of Abel was first proposed by Sophus Lie. Lie’s death marked an interruption in the establishment of the award, and King Oscar II’s attempt to establish the award in 1902 was unsuccessful, complicated by the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway three years later.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters declares the winner of the Abel Prize each March after selection by a committee of five international mathematicians. The committee is headed by Ragni Piene. The International Mathematical Union and the European Mathematical Society nominate members of the Abel Committee. The Norwegian Government gave the prize an initial funding of NOK 200 million (about US$23 million) in 2001. The funding is controlled by the Board, which consists of members elected by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
Anyone may nominate anyone, but self-nomination is not allowed. The nominee must be alive; however, if the awardee dies after being declared as the winner, the prize is awarded posthumously. The Abel Laureate is decided by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters based on the recommendation of the Abel Committee. Both Norwegians and non-Norwegians may serve on the Committee; they are elected by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and nominated by the International Mathematical Union and the European Mathematical Society.
After interest in the concept of the prize had risen in 2001, a working group was formed to develop a proposal, which was presented to the Prime Minister of Norway in May. In August 2001, the Norwegian government announced that the prize would be awarded beginning in 2002, the two-hundredth anniversary of Abel’s birth. The first prize was actually awarded in 2003. A book series presenting Abel Prize laureates and their research was commenced in 2010. The first two volumes cover the years 2003–2007 and 2008–2012 respectively.