Math professor: 'How to predict infections spread is well-known'

Math professor: 'How to predict infections spread is well-known'
2020 Abel Prize Winner Professor Hillel Furstenberg, Hebrew University, credit: Yosef Adest

The Norwegian Abel Prize in mathematics was awarded yesterday to professor Hillel Furstenberg at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He shares the prize with professor Gregory Margulis at Yale University “for pioneering the use of methods from probability and dynamics in group theory, number theory and combinatorics.”

Furstenberg was born in Berlin in 1935 and fled Nazi-Germany in 1939 with his family. He is the first Israeli to win this prestigious prize.

“Furstenberg and Margulis stunned the mathematical world by their ingenious use of probabilistic methods and random walks to solve deep problems in diverse areas of mathematics,” said Hans Munthe-Kaas, chair of the Abel committee.

This year's Abel Prize Award Ceremony will take place at a later date when King Harald V of Norway will present the Abel Prize to the laureates. The original ceremony, scheduled for May 19, has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I was completely taken by surprise when I received the call from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences informing me that I would be the recipient together with a very prominent mathematician of the Abel prize,” professor Furstenberg told The Brussels Times.

“If one looks at the list of previous laureates one sees a very distinguished list of outstanding mathematicians, justifying the claim that the Abel prize is the Nobel prize of mathematics. I'm proud of my work, but didn't consider it of this calibre.”

Asked if his research could help us to understand the spread of the coronavirus, he replied humbly that “unfortunately my work contributes nothing to dealing with the current epidemiological crisis.”

However, the mathematics that is relevant predicting how infections spread is well known, and he is sure that epidemiologists have taken it into account.

The Abel Prize was established by the Norwegian government in 2002 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the mathematician Niels Henrik Abel. The prize recognizes contributions to the field of mathematics that are of extraordinary depth and influence and is often referred to as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters awards the Abel Prize based on a recommendation from the Abel committee. The prize carries with it a cash award of 7,5 million Norwegian Kroners (€606,000).

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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