From MSU News Service
BOZEMAN – Pioneering mathematician Karen Uhlenbeck, the first woman to win one the world’s most prestigious mathematics awards, will present at Montana State University on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Uhlenbeck’s talk, titled “Glimpses into the Calculus of Variations,” will take place in Inspiration Hall in Norm Asbjornson Hall on the MSU campus starting at 4 p.m. The one-hour presentation is free and open to the public.
Uhlenbeck won the Abel Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 2019, the first time it has been given to a woman since its inception in 2003. She is a founder of the field of mathematics known as geometric analysis, which combines the modeling of complex shapes with differential equations – those that include multiple variables and are often used to describe complex phenomena like heat transfer in an engine.
“Karen is an elite and brilliant scholar, and it is a rare treat for all of us at MSU to have her speak,” said Beth Burroughs, head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, which is hosting the event in conjunction with MSU’s Honors College. “She has long been a visible and strong presence among mathematicians, acting on the principle that the mathematics community should be an inclusive one.”
According to Burroughs, Uhlenbeck’s work addresses fundamental mathematical questions that relate to classical and quantum physics, including how to identify configurations with the least area or least energy, and whether those configurations are stable or changing. Calculus of variations involves using sets of functions to find minimums and maximums, such as the shortest path between two points across complex surfaces.
According to Uhlenbeck, her talk will address the general topics of her work and will be of most interest to those familiar with calculus. She will discuss her work in the context of mathematical questions that began with the Greeks and were advanced by the mathematicians Newton, Euler and Legrange, then David Hilbert, and continue to present challenges today in the form of optimization problems.
Uhlenbeck is a professor emeritus in the Department of Mathematics at The University of Texas at Austin and a distinguished visiting professor in the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study.