Archive for March 23rd, 2011

Milnor wins 2011 Abel Prize

March 23, 2011

I have just completed one of the more difficult assignments of my mathematical life: to give a popular presentation of the work of John Milnor immediately following the formal announcement that he was the winner of this year’s Abel Prize. Of course, in one way the task is very straightforward, since Milnor is a mathematical giant and has a large number of fascinating theorems to his name. However, these theorems are not in my field, the talk was supposed to last fifteen minutes, and my immediate audience included not necessarily mathematical journalists who were supposed to understand what I was saying. If you go to the Abel Prize website, you will find a webcast of the whole announcement, including my talk (which includes a telephone interview with Milnor himself), and also a link to a written version of the talk, in which I go into more detail. But if you are a mathematician, then be warned that even the more detailed version is more about the background to Milnor’s results than to the results themselves. And since I was obliged to prepare the talk in secret, I cannot rule out that some of what I have said is wrong, or gives the wrong emphasis.