Mostow, master of geometry, wins Wolf Prize

George Daniel Mostow, a Yale professor emeritus renowned for his contributions in geometry, has been awarded a 2013 Wolf Foundation Prize, one of the top international awards for mathematicians.

George Daniel Mostow (Photo by Michael Marsland)

The honors, bestowed by the Israel-based Wolf Foundation, recognize exceptional achievement in agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics, and the arts. More than 30 past recipients have subsequently won the Nobel Prize in medicine, physics, or chemistry.

In 2013, eight individuals won prizes. Each prize comes with $100,000, split evenly among winners of shared prizes. Mostow, who joined the Yale faculty in 1961 and assumed emeritus status in 1998, shares the award for mathematics with Michael Artin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mostow is admired by mathematicians for his work in geometry and Lie group theory, particularly his discovery of the phenomenon in geometry known as the Strong Rigidity Theorem.

In its announcement of Mostow’s Wolf Prize, the foundation said his work in geometry “opened a floodgate of investigations and results in many related areas of mathematics.” It concluded: “Few mathematicians can compete with the breadth, depth, and originality of his works.”

Yair Minsky, current chair of Yale’s math department, described Mostow’s work as “deeply influential,” and the man as a “cherished colleague.”

“The Mostow Rigidity Theorem plays a fundamental role in nearly every paper on the geometry of Lie groups, and the techniques and ideas he introduced have influenced a lot of further work in geometry, group theory and dynamics,” Minsky said. “In our department, his leadership and friendship over many decades have made him our most cherished colleague.”

Mostow was the Henry Ford II Professor of Mathematics at Yale from 1980 to 1998. Born in 1923, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard. He lives in New Haven and continues to frequent the Yale mathematics department, attending seminars and continuing his research in geometry.

“The Wolf Prize award is very exciting to me and my family,” Mostow told YaleNews. “But my moment of greatest excitement came when I made a breakthrough that combined mathematical fields that had been unrelated. The final idea jumped out at me as I was waiting in my car at a red light at the corner of Whalley Avenue and Fitch Street [in New Haven]. I get a high every time that I pass that intersection.”

Israel’s president will present the 2013 Wolf Foundation Prizes in May in Jerusalem, at a ceremony at the Knesset, the country’s parliament. The Wolf Foundation has given the prizes since 1978.

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