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Wolf Prize in Mathematics awarded to University Professor James Arthur

(photo by Diana Tyszko, Faculty of Arts & Science)

University Professor James Arthur, the Ted Mossman Chair in Mathematics, has been awarded the highly prestigious Wolf Prize in Mathematics.

Presented by the Wolf Foundation in Israel, the prizes have been given since 1978 in the categories of agriculture, chemistry, math, medicine, physics and arts and are considered by many to be precursors to the Nobel Prize in the fields in which the Nobel is awarded. 

Arthur's work is a mathematical landmark that will inspire future generations of mathematicians, the foundation said in a statement. (Read the complete statement.)

This marks only the second time that a Canadian has won the mathematics prize. The first to win it was Robert Langlands, who coincidentally was Arthur’s graduate supervisor at Yale from 1968 to 1970. Only 11 Canadians have won a Wolf Prize in any of its six categories – U of T’s Nobel Prize-winning chemist John Polanyi won it in 1982 in his respective field.

“I am honoured and proud to be awarded the Wolf Prize in Mathematics,” said Arthur. “I am in awe as I look back at the names of mathematicians who have won the prize in years past. Recognition of this sort is of course wonderful for me. But I hope that it might also give inspiration to younger mathematicians who are working to build the future of the subject. 

“I would be very happy if it helps to bring increased attention to the outstanding work now being done in Canada by many mathematicians and many other scientists.”

Arthur is awarded the prize for his monumental work on the trace formula and his fundamental contributions to the theory of automorphic representations of reductive groups.The area of mathematics called automorphic forms includes a series of fundamental conjectures proposed by Langlands, which postulate deep and unexpected relationships among different streams of mathematics. Arthur is working on the possible application of a powerful technique called the trace formula.

(Read what Arthur has to say about the importance of passion for teaching math.)

“This is a magnificent, global tribute to a man whose contributions have been recognized many times over by an array of accolades. It is a reason to celebrate, for all those who value the advancement of knowledge,” said U of T President Meric Gertler.

Arthur has previously been elected to the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Society of London, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He was also president of the American Mathematical Society from 2005 to 2007. He carries the rank of University Professor, the highest designation bestowed upon faculty at U of T.

The award is more great news for the department of mathematics which was recently ranked 15th in the world and first in Canada by QS World Rankings.

“We applaud Jim’s achievements and leadership in research and training,” said Kumar Murty, chair of the department. “This kind of international award is a wonderful testament, not only to the efforts of a particular researcher, but to the high standards of the department as a whole. It gives a kind of forward momentum and I am hopeful that we can work together to take full advantage of it and propel the department to even greater heights.”

Jessica Lewis is a writer with the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto.