Two UChicago mathematicians awarded one of field’s top prizes

University of Chicago mathematicians Alexander Beilinson and Vladimir Drinfeld have been awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize for Mathematics “for their groundbreaking work in algebraic geometry, representation theory and mathematical physics.”

Awarded by the Israeli Wolf Foundation, the prize honors the greatest achievements every year in the fields of agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, physics, medicine and the arts. The award for each subject area carries a $100,000 prize.

“It is a great pleasure to see such deserving people recognized with this prestigious prize,” said Prof. Edward W. “Rocky” Kolb, dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences. “Their work in algebraic geometry is truly remarkable.”

Beilinson, the David and Mary Winton Green University Professor, and Drinfeld, the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor, specialize in algebraic geometry, which uses abstract algebra to solve questions of geometry. Frequent collaborators, their association dates back to 1975, when they were both students of Yuri Manin at Moscow State University.

Several mathematical techniques and conjectures bear their names, including the Beilinson Conjectures, cited as a guiding influence in number theory and algebraic geometry; and the Drinfeld module, which Drinfeld used in 1974 to prove parts of the Langlands program.

“The Geometric Langlands Program is a far-reaching network of conjectures, and sometimes theorems, connecting number theory, algebraic geometry, representation theory and mathematical physics in unexpected and illuminating ways,” said Prof. Kevin Corlette, who chairs the Department of Mathematics. “It is wonderful to see Profs. Beilinson and Drinfeld recognized for their work, which has been fundamental to the development of this subject.”

In addition to his proof of a case of the Langlands conjecture, Drinfeld is also known for his work in representation theory, mathematical physics and quantum group theory. In 1990 he was awarded the Fields Medal, often described as the mathematics counterpart to the Nobel Prize, awarded only once every four years to a mathematician under 40. He is a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Beilinson specializes in geometric representation theory and mathematical physics. His honors include the Ostrowski Prize and the Moscow Mathematical Society Prize.

Both Beilinson and Drinfeld joined the University of Chicago in 1998. They frequently work together—they co-authored a 2004 textbook called Chiral Algebras, one of the most prominent texts on the subject—and they jointly run a seminar called the “Geometric Langlands Seminar,” which runs Mondays from 4:30 p.m. “until both the speaker and the participants are regularly exhausted,” according to a 2006 collection of mathematics articles titled Algebraic Geometry and Number Theory.

Drinfeld called the Wolf Prize “a great honor.” “We’re in good company,” Beilinson added. “To receive a prize together with Paul McCartney—who would think it would happen?” (McCartney received the Wolf Prize in Music this year.)

The Wolf Foundation was established by the German–born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist Ricardo Wolf; he later served as Fidel Castro’s ambassador to Israel, where he lived until his death in 1981. The prizes will be awarded by Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at a May ceremony in Jerusalem.