Faculty Achievements and Awards

Ngô Bao Châu receives highest honor in mathematics

Seven current or former UChicago mathematicians also are Fields Medalists. Read full story >

Ngô Bao Châu, who will join the mathematics faculty at the University of Chicago on Sept. 1, has received the Fields Medal, the International Congress of Mathematicians announced today in Hyderabad, India. The ICM cited Ngô “for his proof of the Fundamental Lemma in the theory of automorphic forms through the introduction of new algebro-geometric methods.”

Also receiving Fields Medals today for other contributions were Cédric Villani, Henri Poincaré Institut in Paris; Stanislav Smirnov, University of Geneva; and Elon Lindenstrauss, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University.

“We congratulate Professor Ngô on his richly deserved Fields Medal,” said Robert J. Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago and Professor in Mathematics. “We look forward to welcoming him as a new member of our mathematics faculty, which has a long and distinguished history.”

Ngô’s Fields Medal comes as no surprise, noted Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division and the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics at the University of Chicago.

“Ngô is just a spectacular young mathematician,” Fefferman said. “The Fields Medal is an appropriate recognition of his great achievement and also a wonderful continuation of a great mathematics tradition at the University of Chicago, a tradition as great as that of any other university in this country.”

Ngô had to master a great deal of mathematics in order to prove the fundamental lemma, said Peter Constantin, Mathematics Department Chairman and Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor at UChicago. “His very original achievement builds on the combination of decades of work by many great mathematicians,” Constantin said. “It is deep, pure mathematics and has relevance to the world, including high-energy physics, computer science and cryptography.”

Fields Medals are given every four years to the most distinguished mathematicians aged 40 or under. They are regarded as the highest professional honor a mathematician can attain, in part because the Nobel Foundation does not give an award for mathematics. Seven current or former UChicago mathematicians also are Fields Medalists.

Ngô, 38, comes to UChicago from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. A native of Hanoi, Vietnam, he has made decisive advances in modern mathematics on the frontier of number theory and representation theory. His contribution is the proof of the fundamental lemma of the Langlands Program, which had vexed mathematicians for three decades. (In mathematical terms, a “lemma” refers to a formulation that is needed to solve a larger problem.) Time magazine listed this work as one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009.

“The proof of the fundamental lemma, which resisted all attempts for nearly three decades, firmly establishes many theorems that had assumed it and paves the way for progress in understanding underlying mathematical structures and possible connections to physics,” according to an article published in the Institute for Advanced Study’s summer 2010 newsletter.

UChicago’s Alexander Beilinson and Vladimir Drinfeld are among the mathematicians who have conducted important research on the Langlands program.

“The Langlands program is central for modern number theory,” said Beilinson, Professor in Mathematics. “Ngô proved a longstanding conjecture of this program, on whose validity a whole research area of major importance-Langlands’ endoscopy theory-is based.”

Added Drinfeld, a 1990 Fields Medalist and Professor in Mathematics: “Ngô’s proof is very illuminating because it uses new geometric ideas, which are deep and beautiful. We are very happy that Bao Châu is joining our department and we congratulate him on the Fields Medal.”

Ngô’s other honors include the Oberwolfach Prize, the Prix Sophie Germain de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris and the Clay Research Award. He also has delivered invited addresses to the International Congress of Mathematicians in 2006 and this year.

By Steve Koppes
August 18, 2010