The Sylvester Medal is a bronze medal awarded by the Royal Society (London) for the encouragement of mathematical research, and accompanied by a £1,000 prize.^{ [1]} It was named in honour of James Joseph Sylvester, the Savilian Professor of Geometry at the University of Oxford in the 1880s, and first awarded in 1901, having been suggested by a group of Sylvester's friends (primarily Raphael Meldola) after his death in 1897.^{ [2]}^{ [3]} Initially awarded every three years with a prize of around £900,^{ [2]}^{ [4]} the Royal Society have announced that starting in 2009 it will be awarded every two years instead, and is to be aimed at 'early to mid career stage scientist' rather than an established mathematician.^{ [1]} The award winner is chosen by the Society's A-side awards committee, which handles physical rather than biological science awards.
As of 2021^{ [update]}, 45 medals have been awarded, of which all but 10 have been awarded to citizens of the United Kingdom, two to citizens of France and United States, and one medal each has been won by citizens of New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy, Sweden and South Africa. As of 2021^{ [update]} three women have won the medal, Mary Cartwright in 1964, Dusa McDuff in 2018, and Frances Kirwan in 2021.
Year | Name | Nationality | Rationale^{ [5]} |
---|---|---|---|
1901 | Henri Poincaré | French | As a mathematician and physicist, he made many original fundamental contributions to pure and applied mathematics, mathematical physics, and celestial mechanics. He was responsible for formulating the Poincaré conjecture, one of the most famous unsolved problems in mathematics, until it was solved in 2002–3. In his research on the three-body problem, Poincaré became the first person to discover a chaotic deterministic system which laid the foundations of modern chaos theory. He is also considered to be one of the founders of the field of topology.^{ [6]}^{ [7]} |
1904 | Georg Cantor | German | Cantor is best known as the inventor of set theory, which has become a fundamental theory in mathematics. He established the importance of one-to-one correspondence between the members of two sets, defined infinite and well-ordered sets, and proved that the real numbers are "more numerous" than the natural numbers. He defined the cardinal and ordinal numbers and their arithmetic. |
1907 | Wilhelm Wirtinger | Austrian | Wirtinger worked on complex analysis, geometry, algebra, number theory, Lie groups and knot theory; he was honored for his work on the general theory of functions.^{ [8]} |
1910 | Henry Frederick Baker | British | Baker worked mainly in algebraic geometry, but is also remembered for contributions to partial differential equations (related to what would become known as solitons), and Lie groups. The Medal was awarded in honor of his work with Abelian functions and for his edition of the collected mathematical works of James Joseph Sylvester.^{ [9]} |
1913 | James Whitbread Lee Glaisher | British | Lee is now remembered mostly for work in number theory that anticipated later interest in the detailed properties of modular forms. He published widely over other fields of mathematics.^{ [10]} In addition to number theory, the Medal was bestowed to acknowledge his work in the theory of elliptic functions. |
1916 | Jean Gaston Darboux | French | Darboux made several important contributions to geometry and mathematical analysis (see, for example, linear PDEs). His contribution to the differential geometry of surfaces appears in the four volume collection of studies he published between 1887 and 1896.^{ [11]} |
1919 | Percy Alexander MacMahon | British | MacMahon is especially noted in connection with the partitions of numbers and enumerative combinatorics and received the Medal for this work. His two volume Combinatory analysis, published in 1915/16, is the first major book in enumerative combinatorics. MacMahon also did pioneering work in recreational mathematics and patented several successful puzzles.^{ [12]} |
1922 | Tullio Levi-Civita | Italian | Levi-Civita made significant contributions in many areas of math, including foundational papers in both pure and applied mathematics, celestial mechanics (notably on the three-body problem) and hydrodynamics. He is most famous for his work on absolute differential calculus ( tensor calculus) and its applications to the theory of relativity.^{ [13]} In addition to his research in geometry, inquiries in mechanics led to his receiving the Medal. |
1925 | Alfred North Whitehead | British | Whitehead received the Medal for his work on the foundations of mathematics, but also wrote on algebra, logic, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education. He supervised the doctoral dissertations of Bertrand Russell and Willard Van Orman Quine, thus influencing logic and virtually all of analytic philosophy. He co-authored the epochal Principia Mathematica with Russell.^{ [14]} |
1928 | William Henry Young | British | Young, who was awarded "for his contributions to the theory of functions of a real variable",^{ [5]} worked on measure theory, Fourier series, differential calculus amongst other fields, and made brilliant and long-lasting contributions to the study of functions of several complex variables.^{ [15]} |
1931 | Edmund Taylor Whittaker | British | Recognized with the Medal for his work in both pure mathematics and applied mathematics, Whittaker also contributed widely to mathematical physics and the theory of special functions. He had a particular interest in numerical analysis, but also worked on celestial mechanics and the history of physics.^{ [16]} |
1934 | Bertrand Russell | British | A philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic,^{ [17]} Russell was honored "for his distinguished work on the foundations of mathematics."^{ [5]} |
1937 | Augustus Edward Hough Love | British | Love is famous for his work on the mathematical theory of elasticity, which, along with his research into hydro-dynamics, resulted in his receiving the Medal. He worked on wave propagation and developed a mathematical model of surface waves known as Love waves. He contributed to the theory of tidal locking and introduced the parameters known as Love numbers, which are used in problems related to the tidal deformation of the Earth due to the gravitational attraction of the Moon and Sun. He authored the two volume classic, A Treatise on the Mathematical Theory of Elasticity.^{ [18]}^{ [19]} |
1940 | Godfrey Harold Hardy | British | "for his important contributions to many branches of pure mathematics." |
1943 | John Edensor Littlewood | British | "for his mathematical discoveries and supreme insight in the analytical theory of numbers." |
1946 | George Neville Watson | British | "for his distinguished contributions to pure mathematics in the field of mathematical analysis and in particular for his work on asymptotic expansion and on general transforms. |
1949 | Louis Joel Mordell | British | "for his distinguished researches in pure mathematics, especially for his discoveries in the theory of numbers." |
1952 | Abram Samoilovitch Besicovitch | Russian | "for his outstanding work on almost-periodic functions, the theory of measure and integration and many other topics of theory of functions." |
1955 | Edward Charles Titchmarsh | British | "for his distinguished researches on the Riemann zeta-function, analytical theory of numbers, Fourier analysis, and eigen-function expansions." |
1958 | Max Newman | British | "for his distinguished contributions to combinatory topology, Boolean algebras and mathematical logic." |
1961 | Philip Hall | British | "for his distinguished researches in algebra." |
1964 | Mary Cartwright | British | "for her distinguished contributions to analysis and the theory of functions of a real and complex variable." |
1967 | Harold Davenport | British | "for his many distinguished contributions to the theory of numbers." |
1970 | George Frederick James Temple | British | "for his many distinguished contributions to applied mathematics, especially in his work on distribution theory." |
1973 | John William Scott Cassels | British | "for his numerous important contributions to the theory of numbers." |
1976 | David George Kendall | British | "for his many distinguished contributions to probability theory and its applications." |
1979 | Graham Higman | British | "for his distinguished and profoundly influential contributions to the theory of finite and infinite groups. |
1982 | John Frank Adams | British | "for his solution of several outstanding problems of algebraic topology and of the methods he invented for this purpose which have proved of prime importance in the theory of the subject." |
1985 | John Griggs Thompson | American | "for his fundamental contributions leading to the complete classification of all finite simple groups." |
1988 | Charles T. C. Wall | British | "for his contributions to the topology of manifolds and related topics in algebra and geometry." |
1991 | Klaus Friedrich Roth | British | "for his many contributions to number theory and in particular his solution of the famous problem concerning approximating algebraic numbers by rationals." |
1994 | Peter Whittle | New Zealand | "for his major distinctive contributions to time series analysis, to optimisation theory, and to a wide range of topics in applied probability theory and the mathematics of operational research." |
1997 | Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter | British /Canadian | "for his achievements in geometry, notably projective geometry, non-euclidean geometry and the analysis of spatial shapes and patterns, and for his substantial contributions to practical group-theory which pervade much modern mathematics." |
2000 | Nigel James Hitchin | British | "for his important contributions to many parts of differential geometry combining this with complex geometry, integrable systems and mathematical physics interweaving the most modern ideas with the classical literature." |
2003 | Lennart Carleson | Swedish | "for his deep and fundamental contributions to mathematics in the field of analysis and complex dynamics." |
2006 | Peter Swinnerton-Dyer | British | "for his fundamental work in arithmetic geometry and his many contributions to the theory of ordinary differential equations." |
2009 | John M. Ball | British | "for his seminal work in mechanics and nonlinear analysis and his encouragement of mathematical research in developing countries." |
2010 | Graeme Segal | British | "for his highly influential and elegant work on the development of topology, geometry and quantum field theory, bridging the gap between physics and pure mathematics." |
2012 | John Francis Toland | British/Irish | "for his original theorems and remarkable discoveries in nonlinear partial differential equations, including applications to water waves." |
2014 | Ben Green | British | "for his famous result on primes in arithmetic progression, and his subsequent proofs of a number of spectacular theorems over the last five to ten years." |
2016 | Timothy Gowers | British | "for his groundbreaking results in the theory of Banach spaces, pure combinatorics, and additive number theory." |
2018 | Dusa McDuff | British | "for leading the development of the new field of symplectic geometry and topology." |
2019 | Peter Sarnak | American/ South African | "for transformational contributions across number theory, combinatorics, analysis and geometry." |
2020 | Bryan John Birch | British | for "driving the theory of elliptic curves, through the Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture and the theory of Heegner points." |
2021 | Frances Kirwan | British | for "her research on quotients in algebraic geometry, including links with symplectic geometry and topology, which has had many applications." |
2022 | Roger Heath-Brown | British | "for his many important contributions to the study of prime numbers and solutions to equations in integers." |