What does this year's Abel Prize mean for mathematics?

2021-03-24

This year's Abel Prize has gone to László Lovász and Avi Wigderson for their basic contributions to discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science. Stephan Wagner and Svante Janson, who both conduct research in discrete mathematics, tell about what the prize means for their field.

Stephan Wagner standing in front of an abstract red painting
Stephan Wagner

“Discrete mathematics as an independent field is a relatively young branch of mathematics and has largely grown due to its applications in computer science. This year's Abel Prize recognizes Lovász's and Wigderson's role in shaping discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science into central mathematical areas,” says Stephan Wagner, senior lecturer in mathematics at Uppsala University.
 
Svante Janson, professor of mathematics at Uppsala University, also emphasizes the importance of computer science for the development of modern mathematics.
 
“Computer science is an important source of interesting and difficult mathematical problems today, of a different kind than traditional applied mathematics which has mainly interacted with physics,” says Svante Janson.
 
Both Lovász and Wigderson have contributed to many research topics in discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science, but it is mainly Lovász's work in combinatorics that has been pertinent to Stephan Wagner's and Svante Janson's research. Stephan Wagner has worked on extremal graph theory, where Lovázs is considered one of the foremost specialists, while Svante Janson has written several articles on graph limits, a concept developed by Lovász and collaborators about fifteen years ago.

Svante Janson standing in a mountain landscape
Svante Janson

What do you think the connection between mathematics and computer science will look like in the future?
 
“I know too little about where computer science is heading, so I do not dare to predict the future. But I would think that computer science will continue to generate problems that are of great theoretical interest to mathematicians,” says Svante Janson.
 
Stephan Wagner believes that the connection between the disciplines will be even stronger in the future.
 
“Computers give us new opportunities but also new challenges and interesting new research topics. For example, interest in graph theory has increased as a result of questions about large networks.”

Alma Kirlic

The Abel Prize's website

Last modified: 2021-03-26