Abel Prize Awarded for Studies of Universe’s Randomness

A French mathematician is the recipient of this year’s Abel Prize, the math equivalent of the Nobel, for advances in understanding randomness in the universe — the heights of ocean waves crashing on a beach, the weights of babies, the ups and downs of the stock market — work that has found use in mathematical physics and statistics.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, which runs the Abel Prize, announced Wednesday morning that the recipient was Michel Talagrand, 72, a former researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research.

“Talagrand is an exceptionally prolific mathematician whose work has transformed probability theory, functional analysis and statistics,” the academy said in its award citation. “His research is characterized by a desire to understand interesting problems at their most fundamental level, building new mathematical theories along the way.”

Dr. Talagrand will receive 7.5 million Norwegian kroner, or about $700,000. That money, along with money he won in 2019 for the Shaw Prize, another prestigious award, will go to a new prize “in my favorite areas of mathematics,” he said.

As a 15-year-old, a month in the hospital helped spur his mathematical abilities. A decade earlier, he had gone blind in his right eye after the retina detached, the result of a genetic condition. Then the retina in his left eye detached too. His father, a college math instructor, taught him mathematics while his eyes were bandaged.

“This is how I learned the power of abstraction,” Dr. Talagrand wrote in an autobiography for the Shaw Prize.

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