Past Faculty Luis Caffarelli Wins 2023 Abel Prize

Luis Caffarelli, past Faculty (1986–96) and Member (2009) in the School of Mathematics, has been awarded the 2023 Abel Prize. Described as an “exceptionally prolific mathematician,” Caffarelli’s “seminal contributions to regularity theory for nonlinear partial differential equations” were lauded in the Abel Prize Committee’s citation.

Partial differential equations (or PDEs) are used to model how several variables continuously change with respect to one another, and are applicable to many phenomena from the natural world. Many of Caffarelli’s most notable breakthroughs center around the regularity––or lack thereof––of the solutions to PDEs. In 1977, he published an influential paper in which he demonstrated the regularity of melting ice—showing that the surface of a piece of ice remains mostly smooth as it melts.

Caffarelli, who currently serves as the Sid Richardson Chair in Mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, joined the Institute from the University of Chicago in the 1980s. It was during this period that the Monge-Ampère equation, also highlighted in the Abel Prize Committee’s citation, became a focus of his work. He developed what is now known as “Caffarelli regularity theory,” which has important applications beyond the study of partial differential equations, such as optimal transportation theory.

Now aged 74, Caffarelli continues to influence the field of mathematics, publishing several papers a year. His work has received approximately 19,000 citations, testifying to the profound impact of his scholarship.

The Abel Prize, named for Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, recognizes lifetime achievement in mathematics. It is often described as the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Since its inception in 2001, IAS affiliated scholars have made up 23 of the 26 Abel Laureates.

Last year’s winner was past Visitor Dennis Parnell Sullivan. Other notable IAS recipients include Herbert H. Maass Professor Avi Wigderson and former Visiting Professor (2011–12) László Lovász, who jointly received the award in 2021, and Professors Emeriti Robert Langlands in 2018 and Pierre Deligne in 2013. Current Distinguished Visiting Professor Karen Uhlenbeck, frequent Member and Visitor Andrew Wiles, and past Member John Nash are also Abel Laureates.