2021 Abel Prize winner was a Yale math and computer science mainstay
Hungarian mathematician László Lovász, an emeritus professor at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and co-recipient of the prestigious 2021 Abel Prize in mathematics, is renowned for his work combining math with algorithmic and computer science theory.
His former colleagues at Yale — where Lovász was a faculty member from 1993 to 1999 — say that was certainly true during his time in New Haven.
“He was a valuable member of the Department of Mathematics, of course, but often you would find him sitting in the computer science building,” recalled Van Vu, the Percey F. Smith Professor of Mathematics. “Most of his classes were there, as well. His knowledge is vast and he is a very considerate and gentle man.”
The Abel Prize has been awarded annually by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters since 2003. In 2020, Yale’s Gregory A. Margulis, the Erastus L. DeForest Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, won the Abel Prize.
“It is an honor to have both of these recent Abel Prize winners as our present and past colleagues in this department,” said Yair Minsky, the Einar Hille Professor and chair of mathematics. “It speaks to the caliber in general of the people who pass through here. It connects us to the most active streams of thought in the profession and it keeps us ambitious to reach for similar heights in the future.”
Lovász, 73, is known for his work in combinatorics, an area of mathematics that touches upon a wide array of other topics, from algebra and topology to the analysis of algorithms. During his career he helped create a number of innovative algorithms, such as the LLL algorithm, which has been applied in advances to mobile computing and cryptography.
Lovász’s many awards include the 1999 Wolf Prize, the 1999 Knuth Prize, and the 2010 Kyoto Prize. During his time at Yale, Lovász was named the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics.
“He basically introduced me to higher mathematics and changed my career while I was an undergraduate student in engineering in Budapest,” said Vu, who later had Lovász as his Ph.D advisor at Yale.
“I am impressed by his knowledge and his approach to combinatorics, which is both elegant and deep,” Vu said. “Following him, I try to learn materials beyond our focus area — combinatorics — and link it to our subject.”
In addition to his research, Lovász served as president of the International Mathematical Union from 2007 to 2010 and president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from 2014 to 2020.
“He is a born leader,” Vu said.