The 2016 Abel Prize laureate: “I was hooked”

The Abel Prize was established in 2002 and shall honor outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics.

Sir Andrew J. Wiles received the Abel Prize from H.R.H. Crown Prince Haakon. Foto: Yngve Vogt/UiO

Yesterday Sir Andrew Wiles received the 2016 Abel Prize "for his stunning proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem by way of the modularity conjecture for semistable elliptic curves, opening a new era in number theory." Today we celebrate Wiles’ achievements through a lecture series at the University of Oslo.

“Few results have as rich a mathematical history and as dramatic a proof as Fermat’s Last Theorem,” the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters said in its award citation.

Wiles’ results are truly groundbreaking. And the proof took years to develop. No strategic research plan would have suggested this as a realistic task.  In his acceptance speech in the University Aula, Sir Wiles told us about how it all started. Aged ten, he found a book in the local library. The title was “The last problem” and the author was E.T. Bell. The problem was described on the back cover. Even without opening the book, the young Andrew “was hooked”. This was the start of a long journey that now culminates with the award of the Abel Prize.  

In my welcome speech today I remind ourselves on how important it is to recognize the importance of such long term research, driven by curiosity and kindled by the quest for solutions to the hardest of problems. 

Dear Abel Prize Laureate, Sir Andrew Wiles. Dear guests and friends of free and independent research

My wording in this greeting is deliberate and well thought through: Dear friends of free and independent research. Apart from extending my congratulations to you, Sir Wiles, I have just one point to make in my welcome address – one single point inspired by your achievements and by the acceptance speech you gave in the University Aula.  Let us – as institutions and society - leave ample space for free and independent research, for research driven by the curious mind, by minds that set out relentlessly on a journey targeting one specific problem. Such a journey may easily take the better part of a lifetime – as in your case, Sir Wiles. Such a journey may easily look esoteric to many. But you have shown us all that a journey driven by stamina and curiosity not only brings solution to a particular problem - it also leaves many beautiful discoveries in its trail. The relentless quest for a solution gives unexpected rewards.

Universities have a broad range of obligations. By law we shall gain new insight, we shall educate, we shall innovate, and we shall communicate the results of our research. Nowhere in the law do we find a “lex Wiles” -  a paragraph that tells us to provide a haven for those that are bent on going for the big questions that have no immediate reward. In a world that seemingly rotates ever faster – in a world that becomes increasingly short-term in its expectations of impact and profit - we need to protect such havens.  Your journey inspires. On behalf of the University of Oslo I salute you, Sir Wiles, and congratulate you on your achievements.


Publisert 25. mai 2016 10:06 - Sist endret 26. mai 2016 10:53
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