Karen Uhlenbeck was selected by a committee of five mathematicians nominated by the European Mathematical Society and the International Mathematics Union. Her work involves the study of partial differential equations, calculus of variations, gauge theory, topological quantum field theory, and integrable systems. The full citation from the announcement can be found here and a short biography by Jim Al-Khalili here.

“Karen Uhlenbeck receives the Abel Prize 2019 for her fundamental work in geometric analysis and gauge theory, which has dramatically changed the mathematical landscape. Her theories have revolutionised our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimisation problems in higher dimensions.” – Hans Munthe-Kaas, Chair of the Abel Committee.

Karen’s work covers minimisation problems, such as solving for the shape of a soap bubble acting to minimise its energy under gravity. Here’s a fantastic slow-motion experiment from Ray Goldstein at the University of Cambridge demonstrating the change in the shape of a soap bubble as the two supporting wires are pulled apart.

Karen also works in topological quantum field theory which has very important consequences for physicists, not least in relation to the Yang-Mills Mass Gap Hypothesis – one of the 7 million-dollar Millennium Problems. You can read more about the problem here.

“If I really understand something, I’m bored.” Karen Uhlenbeck

Throughout her career Karen has been very active in the area of mentorship and furthering the cause of women in mathematics. She is the founder of the Institute of Advanced Study Women’s Program, now entering its 25th year, and the Park City Mathematics Institute Summer Session, which places a huge emphasis on interdisciplinary research and collaboration between mathematicians from all areas.

The Abel Prize was established on 1 January 2002 – 200 years after the birth of Niels Henrik Abel. The purpose is to award the Abel Prize for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. The prize amount is 6 million NOK (about 750,000 Euro) and was awarded for the first time on 3 June 2003.

You can read the official announcement from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters here.