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22 November, 2012, Brussels: The European Science Foundation (ESF) has awarded this year’s European Latsis Prize to Professor Uffe Haagerup, an eminent mathematician at the University of Copenhagen. The theme for this year’s prize was “Mathematics” and Professor Haagerup was awarded the prize for his ground-breaking and important contributions to operator algebra, in addition to other new and challenging areas of mathematics.
The Prize is to be awarded at a reception this evening at a joint event organised by Science Europe and the European Science Foundation which is taking place in Brussels, Belgium.
Funded by the Geneva-based Latsis Foundation, the European Latsis Prize is valued at 100,000 Swiss francs (€83,000). The prize is awarded to an individual or a research group who, in the opinion of their peers, has made the greatest contribution to a particular field of European research.
“I am honoured to be considered for this esteemed award, it is very gratifying to have my work recognised in such a way” said Professor Haagerup. “I have devoted my career to mathematics and I’m very passionate about it. I’ve been interested in mathematics from an early age. Since the age of ten I would join a friend of the family, a land surveyor, at work and help him to measure fields and learned about sine and cosine long before I studied these at school.”
Professor Haagerup is honoured for a lifetime of groundbreaking research in operator algebras. He has authored over 90 academic papers and he was also editor-in-chief of the journal Acta Mathematica from 2000-2006. In addition to this, Professor Haagerup has been the recipient of several prestigious awards during his career. Highlights include: The Samuel Friedman Award in 1985, the Ole Roemer Award in 1989 and a Humboldt Research Award in 2008.
Professor Haagerup first achieved recognition, and then fame, for his ability to solve very difficult challenges left open by other distinguished mathematicians. Most of his work has been in the field of operator algebra, territories known as ‘Banach space’ and other problems in pure mathematics that have important applications in quantum field theory.
His name is widely cited in mathematical circles and he is also one of that rare class of researchers whose names have entered the mathematical lexicon: there is a Haagerup property, and even a result acclaimed as “the extended Haagerup.”
The criteria used in the selection procedure are scientific excellence, the enhancement of knowledge, societal impact, and contribution to European progress. The nominations were evaluated by a jury of eminent scientists in the field [Professors Mats Gyllenberg, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Ana Bela Cruzeiro, Gert-Martin Greuel, George Papanicolaou and Claudio Procesi]. Professor Mats Gyllenberg, chairman of the jury that recommended Professor Haagerup as the winner of this year’s prize commented “Professor Uffe Haagerup is a highly esteemed mathematician. He was chosen for this award because of his unique achievements and contributions to mathematics”.
Notes to editors
About the European Latsis Prize
The European Latsis Prize is an annual award that has been running since 1999. Former recipients of the European Latsis Prize are Jürgen Baumert in 1999 for "Research and/or Innovation in Education", Kenneth Holmes in 2000 for "Molecular Structure", André Berger in 2001 for "Climate Research", Annette Karmiloff-Smith in 2002 for "Cognitive Sciences", Colin Renfrew in 2003 for "Archaeology", Amos Bairoch in 2004 for "Bioinformatics", Donal Bradley in 2005 for "Nano-Engineering", Rainer Bauböck in 2006 for "Immigration and Social Cohesion in Modern Societies", Willi Kalender in 2007 for "Medical Imaging", Simon White in 2008 for “Astrophysics”, Professors Uta and Chris Frith in 2009 for “The Human Mind - The Human Brain”, Ikka Hanski, Finland in 2010 for “Biodiversity” and Professor James Vaupel in 2011 for “Demography”.
The European Science Foundation (ESF) is an independent, non-governmental organisation that promotes collaboration in scientific research, funding of research and science policy across Europe. Its members are 78 national funding and research-performing organisations and learned societies from 30 countries. www.esf.org
Professor Uffe Haagerup’s work
Uffe Valentin Haagerup was born in Kolding, Denmark, on 19 December, 1949 and works in the department of mathematical science at the University of Copenhagen. Married for many years, he is the father of two sons aged 25 and 23. He achieved first recognition, and then fame, for his ability to solve very difficult challenges left open by other distinguished mathematicians, and most of his work has been in the field of operator algebra, and territories known as Banach spaces, and other problems in pure mathematics that have important applications in quantum field theory.
He is also one of that rare class of researchers whose names have entered the mathematical lexicon: there is a Haagerup property, and even a result acclaimed as “the extended Haagerup.”
He graduated from the University of Copenhagen in 1974, and became first an assistant professor at Odense University, later the University of Southern Denmark, then a research fellow, and then an associate professor before becoming a full professor in 1981. He moved to Copenhagen in 2010. He has also taught and worked at the University of Pennsylvania, the Institute Mitag Leffler in Stockholm, the Mathematical Science Research Institute at Berkeley, California, the Field Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences in Toronto, Canada, and the University of Munster, Germany. He is a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
His adventures in mathematics began at an early age: visiting aunts and uncles noticed that the young Uffe Haagerup could add, subtract and multiply long before he went to school. “Somehow it took off from there. On my mother’s side of the family there were two uncles who were land surveyors and from the age of 10 I was connected to the office of one of them, and went out into the field measuring with him, and after a time got more complicated things to do. So I learned about sine and cosine long before I studied these at school.”
Mathematics became his main interest. He considered taking an educational course in surveying, but by then it had become an administrative job, and he observed that increasingly, surveyors spent less time in the field, and more time with administration.
He began his undergraduate studies in 1968, initially taking mathematics and physics in parallel and – fascinated by the challenges of quantum mechanics and general relativity – he was for a while tempted to pursue physics. “What helped my choice was that I was not very satisfied with the advanced stuff: how sloppily they treated the mathematics. I wanted to know the whole story. So I got interested in operator algebras.” These were developed by John von Neumann, the Budapest-born polymath who went on to work with the atomic scientists of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and who then pioneered the world’s first programmable computer. “He was one of my heroes: he sat down and tried to make more rigorous mathematical models and came up with what are now called von Neumann algebras, and that is what I have studied for a long time. I usually list my research field as operator algebra, but that is half von Neumann and half C* algebra.”
The paradox is that he abandoned topographical survey work for mathematical research that led to the measurement and mapping of topological spaces that – for most people – exist only as mysterious abstractions, and he now pursues this research in the city most associated with the exploration of the strange world of quantum theory, pioneered by the great Niels Bohr in Copenhagen.
“My own work is in pure mathematics but colleagues have gone deeper into the connection with physics. Operator algebra comes in handy for making models for quantum field theory,” he says. “This all goes on in infinite dimensional space: one has to work with linear maps in infinite dimensions – and then a lot of new phenomena happen. That’s the challenge. All this was a very new development in physics. To describe what protons and electrons did in three-dimensional space you actually had to compute in infinite dimensional space.”
He is author or co-author of more than 90 papers published or in preparation; he was for six years editor-in-chief of the journal Acta Mathematica; he has already been honoured by the Samuel Friedman Award in 1985; the Ole Roemer Award in 1989, and a Humboldt Research Award in 2008. He holds a European Research Council advanced grant and he has twice addressed the International Congress of Mathematicians, first in 1986 at Berkeley and in 2002 in Beijing. He can, he says, work anywhere. Apart from some recent adventures with a new bicycle, he has no sporting interests. “That is my weak point. I need to relax more than I do.”
His name is used freely in mathematical circles: he is known for the Haagerup tensor norm, linked to Banach spaces, named after the Polish mathematician Stefan Banach, and also to the Hilbert spaces, named for the German scholar David Hilbert. The term “Haagerup property” defines the property of certain discrete groups that satisfy the Baum-Connes Conjecture and the term was coined by the French mathematician Alain Connes in 1980. “I recently looked myself up on Google - I don’t do that often – and found that the term Haagerup property had been mistranslated so that I could see myself living in a castle!” he says. “But I live in a modest apartment in Copenhagen.”