In “Good Will Hunting,” the title character seemed able to outsmart the best of the best, even an MIT professor who won the Fields Medal — “like the Nobel Prize of math” according to the 1997 hit film. But Will Hunting never came across mathematics professor Gregory Margulis.
Margulis, who won the Fields Medal in 1978, can now add an award almost as prestigious to his mantle. The Wolf Prize is second only to the Field’s in renown.
Margulis’ work focuses on Lie group theory and number theory. The Wolf Prize jury chose him as the 2005 winner for his contributions to algebra, number theory and Lie groups.
He will travel to Jerusalem in late May to accept the $100,000 award in the Knesset.
“It feels great,” Margulis said. “I feel honored to have won this. It is like a lifetime achievement award for me.”
The award is given by the Israel-based Wolf Foundation, which is named the after German-born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist Ricardo Wolf. He emigrated to Cuba during World War I and was appointed the Cuban ambassador to Israel in 1961. When Cuba severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 1973, he chose to remain in Israel, where he died in 1981.
The award has no religious or Zionist connotation to it, but it does require each winner of the award to travel to Israel to accept it in person.
The jury itself is kept anonymous, but it is usually a three-person international committee.
The Wolf Prize is awarded annually in six fields — chemistry, mathematics, physics, agriculture, medicine and the arts. Usually, Margulis said, the award is split in each category between two or three people.
This year, he shares the award with University of Maryland professor Sergei Novikov.
Mathematics Department chair Andrew Casson said Margulis’ accomplishments and personality were worthy of the award. He said he was glad to see his department chair predecessor be recognized.
“He is a great inspiration to our graduate students, and in the past he has motivated undergraduate students when he teaches undergraduate courses,” Casson said. “All of his students talk very enthusiastically of him.”
Provost Andrew Hamilton agreed with Casson on the importance of Margulis’ achievements and the mathematical milestones he has achieved.
“Gregory Margulis is one of the most distinguished mathematicians in the world,” Hamilton said. “He joins only a handful of living scholars who have been awarded both the Fields Medal and the Wolf Prize, and his contributions to algebra have been monumental.”
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