Robert Langlands of the Institute for Advanced Study wins Abel Mathematics Prize

Robert Langlands giving a lecture. Photo: Dan Komoda.

Robert Langlands, a professor emeritus in the school of mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study, has been awarded the 2018 Abel Prize.

The Abel Prize is an international award that acknowledges outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics and comes with a monetary award of nearly $800,000. The prize will be presented to Langlands by H.M. King Harald V at an award ceremony in Oslo on May 22. Since the Abel Prize was first bestowed in 2003, 17 of the 19 recipients have been affiliated with the Institute as faculty or members.

The Abel Committee of the Norwegian Academy of Science honored Langlands with the award “for his visionary program connecting representation theory to number theory.”

Langlands’s work has had a deep influence on mathematics and theoretical physics. In a 17-page handwritten letter Langlands wrote in 1967,  he proposed a theory that relates seemingly unrelated concepts in number theory, algebraic geometry, and the theory of automorphic forms. A typed copy of the letter was circulated widely among mathematicians in the late 1960s and 1970s, and for more than four decades, mathematicians have been working on its conjectures.

“The Institute is incredibly proud and pleased that Robert Langlands has received the great honor of the 2018 Abel Prize in recognition of his visionary program,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study. “Bob’s deep insights have inspired generations of mathematicians and yielded many profound breakthroughs. The course he charted will guide the future of mathematics and will undoubtedly lead to new surprising discoveries—a gift to the world that keeps on giving.”

Peter Sarnak, a professor in the Institute’s school of mathematics, said that the work of Langlands and the tools he developed have been the basis for other important achievements. For example,  Langlands’s base change theorem was the starting point of Andrew Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s last theorem.

Born in British Columbia in 1936, Langlands grew up in a small Canadian town where his father owned a building supply store. He enrolled at the University of British Columbia at the age of 16. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of British Columbia, Langlands earned his doctorate from Yale University in 1960. He taught at Princeton University and Yale University, became a Member in the Institute’s School of Mathematics in 1962, and was appointed to the faculty of the Institute in 1972.


Langlands’s honors are the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences,the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, the Grande Médaille d’Or of the French Academy of Sciences, the Wolf Prize in Mathematics (jointly with Andrew Wiles), the inaugural National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics, the Common Wealth Award, and the American Mathematical Society’s Cole Prize.