Stanford professors win prestigious Swedish prizes in mathematics, astronomy

YAKOV ELIASHBERG, professor of mathematics, and ROGER BLANDFORD, professor of physics, have been awarded the 2016 Crafoord prizes in mathematics and astronomy, respectively, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Eliashberg has been awarded the 2016 Crafoord Prize in Mathematics for his work in developing symplectic topology, a branch of differential geometry, and for his groundbreaking discoveries of rigidity and flexibility phenomena.

Blandford and ROY KERR of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, shared the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy “for fundamental work concerning rotating black holes and their astrophysical consequences.”

Both prizes were announced Jan. 14, and include 6 million Swedish kronor per prize.

Yakov Eliashberg (Photo credit: L. A. Cicero
Yakov Eliashberg (Photo credit: L. A. Cicero)

Eliashberg, the Herald L. and Caroline L. Ritch Professor in Humanities and Sciences, said, “I am extremely honored and happy to receive the Crafoord Prize for my work in symplectic and contact geometry and topology.” At the time he entered the field of symplectic topology, it was not even clear that the subject truly existed. Now, Eliashberg said, “it is a vibrant field with many exciting results proven every day, and new connections with other areas of mathematics and physics” are being found.

According to the academy’s press release, one of Eliashberg’s first results was the discovery that there are regions where symplectic geometry is rigid and other regions where it is fully flexible. But where the boundary is between the flexible and the rigid regions, and how it can be described mathematically, remains a question awaiting an answer.

“I am very grateful to Stanford, my colleagues and students for creating an extremely lively and stimulating environment for work,” said Eliashberg. He added, “It is especially pleasant that the second award this year in astronomy is shared by our Stanford colleague Roger Blandford.”

Roger Blandford (Photo courtesy Roger Blandford)
Roger Blandford (Photo courtesy Roger Blandford)

Blandford, the Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, said, “I congratulate Yakov Eliashberg and am looking forward very much to meeting him.

“It is a great honor to have the research of myself and my many wonderful collaborators recognized in this way. I am thrilled to be sharing it with Roy Kerr who gave physics and astronomy a great gift in 1963 – the Kerr metric – and which is still giving to both these disciplines in 2016.”

Black holes are the origin of the universe’s most powerful light, with rays that can stretch many thousands of light-years out into space, notes the press release. Over 30 years ago, Blandford discovered how the strong light of rotating black holes is created. Since then he has refined and made more realistic models of how gas surrounding a black hole flows toward it, is heated up and transforms some of its gravitational energy to radiation.

The Crafoord Prize ceremony will be held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 26 in the presence of the king and queen of Sweden. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences also awards the Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.