Flemish mathematician receives ‘Silicon Valley Nobel Prize’


This year’s Breakthrough Prize for mathematics has gone to Ostend-born Jean Bourgain for his work on number theory and differential equations

$3 million for Bourgain

Ostend-born mathematician Jean Bourgain has received the Breakthrough Prize in mathematics – dubbed the “Silicon Valley Nobel Prize”– for his ground-breaking work on number theory, high-dimensional geometry and partial differential equations.

The high-profile award was created by ICT pioneers like Google founder Sergey Brin and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to reward exceptional scientific performances. The televised and star-studded awards ceremony took place at the weekend in San Francisco. Actor Morgan Freeman hosted the event, and actor Jeremy Irons presented Bourgain with the trophy.

Bourgain, 62, is a mathematics professor at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). Although the institute is located in the US city of Princeton, New Jersey, it is independent and not affiliated with the famous university. Founded in 1930, Albert Einstein was one of its first professors. IAS is unique in that its scientists are allowed to focus completely on fundamental research, without pressure to publish or to give lectures.

Born in Ostend in 1954, Bourgain earned his PhD in mathematics at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). He was only 23 at the time and became a full professor four years later. He left in 1985 to teach in France, moving to the IAS in 1994. In 2012, he won the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ famed Crafoord Prize for mathematics.

Apart from the award in mathematics, there were also Breakthrough Prizes awarded for life sciences and fundamental physics. Each of the Breakthrough Prizes is worth $3 million, or about €2.8 million.

Photo courtesy Insititute for Advanced Study