(Courtesy Stony Brook University)

John Milnor ’51 *54 has, to borrow a sporting term, completed the “grand slam” of mathematics honors. The former Princeton professor and current co-director of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Stony Brook University had already won the Fields Medal, the Wolf Prize in Mathematics, and three Steele prizes. On March 23, he was chosen to receive the 2011 Abel Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters – a $1 million award given annually for outstanding work in the field of mathematics.

According to the Abel committee, which cited Milnor’s “pioneering discoveries in topology, geometry, and algebra”:

“All of Milnor’s works display marks of great research: profound insights, vivid imagination, elements of surprise, and supreme beauty.

"Milnor’s discovery of exotic smooth spheres in seven dimensions was completely unexpected. It signaled the arrival of differential topology and an explosion of work by a generation of brilliant mathematicians; this explosion has lasted for decades and changed the landscape of mathematics." … Click here to read the full citation

Philip Ball of Nature wrote that the committee “wisely avoided singling out a particular achievement” in Milnor’s illustrious, wide-ranging career. “In effect,” Ball wrote, “this is a recognition that he has contributed to maths across the board.”

If the honor and the high praise sound familiar, perhaps that’s because a fellow alumnus, John Tate *50, won the Abel Prize a year ago (and also was recognized as our Tiger of the Week). Since the prize was first awarded in 2003, there have been 11 Abel laureates. Milnor and Tate are the only Princetonians.

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