Anthony Petrello ’76 will contribute at least $150,000 to establish an endowment for an annual prize in honor of venerated Yale math professor Serge Lang, who passed away last September.
Petrello announced the donation Friday at a memorial service for Lang, one of his mentors while he was at Yale. In addition to the initial $150,000, Petrello said he will match any other donations up to another $150,000. He said he hopes the final endowment for the prize will amount to around $450,000.
Lang was widely considered to be the most prolific mathematician of his time, publishing hundreds of articles and books on various mathematical topics. While he was sometimes controversial — he was vehement in his assertions that a link between HIV and AIDS has not been definitively established — he became close with many students, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Petrello said.
“He was a unique person not only because he was a great mathematician but because he was a great teacher,” he said. “He helped many young people throughout their Yale careers.”
Since Lang had a large cadre of friends and contacts worldwide in the mathematics community, the effort to raise additional funds for the prize will involve contacting mathematicians from around the globe, said Peter Jones, a math professor and personal friend of Lang’s who will be among those responsible for setting up and administering the prize. He said the prize will also have a strong base of financial support among Yalies, pointing out the enthusiasm following Petrello’s announcement at the memorial service.
“There were many people — not necessarily mathematicians — who said, ‘I owe my career to Serge Lang,’ ” Jones said.
Although the criteria of the prize have not yet been worked out, Petrello said the prize will likely be awarded to individuals in the field of mathematics.
“It will be a more meaningful prize if people in the mathematical community generally get behind it,” he said.
Petrello met Lang the first month of his freshman year, September 1972. It was Lang’s first month on campus, as well — he had just come to Yale from Columbia University. Petrello said Lang became one of his closest friends at Yale.
David Aulicino ’05, who founded the math club during his freshman year at Lang’s behest, said he thinks the award befits such a colorful character as Lang.
“I am very glad to see that he is being memorialized through a prize,” he said.
Aulicino said that after he founded the club, Lang made an appearance at every meeting and frequently critiqued those who spoke before the club.
“I am a much better speaker because of it,” Aulicino said.
Petrello, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math, serves as the president and chief operating officer of Nabors Industries Ltd., an oil drilling contractor.