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ON NORWEGIANS, A MAZE, AND A PARTY FOR “MATH’S NOBEL”

NORWEGIAN MATHEMATICIAN Hans Munthe-Kaas helped to design a new botanical garden at his institution, the University of Bergen. As reported in Science magazine, October 12, 2018, “The result debuted on 30 September: an 800-square-meter labyrinth whose interior walls of yew trees stand in repeating patterns that embody mathematical principles.”

A Norwegian Wood Maze. “This Dizzying Labyrinth Will Host Next Year’s Party for Math’s ‘Nobel’ Prize,” by Allyn Jackson, is in Science, October 9, 2018. Jackson notes, “To design the labyrinth, Hans Munthe-Kaas started with spirals. He took particular inspiration from the Archimedes spiral, a curve that appears throughout the natural world, including in fiddlehead ferns. He next looked to the symmetrical, infinitely repeating, 2D patterns known as ‘wallpaper groups,’ which can be seen in mosaics common in ancient and medieval buildings, like Spain’s Alhambra.”

The Archimedes Labyrinth, part of a new botanical garden in Norway’s University of Bergen. Image by Arne Ristesund in Science, October 9, 2018. Below, the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. Image from landlopers.com.


Hans Munthe-Kaas has a speciality in computational mathematics, combining pure and applied mathematics with computer science. One of his discoveries extended that of earlier researchers in what’s now called the Runge-Kutta-Munthe-Kass Method, used in integration of differential equations evolving on Lie groups. (Don’t ask.)

Hans Munthe-Kass, England-born 1961, Norwegian mathematician at the University of Bergen.

Munthe-Kass is also involved with organizational aspects of mathematical sciences. He serves as president of Centre International de Mathématiques Pures et Appliqués, managing editor of The Journal of the Society for the Foundations of Computational Mathematics, and chair of the Abel Prize Committee from 2018.

Niels Henrik Abel. The Abel Prize was established on January 1, 2002, awarded annually by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians. It honors Niels Henrik Abel, Norwegian mathematician known for a wide variety of areas, including Abelian groups (in which a ∎ b = b ∎ a), Abel’s Binomial Theorem (a generalization of Binomial Theorem coefficients), and Abel’s Test (assessing convergence of infinite series).

Niels Henrik Abel, 1802–1829, Norwegian mathematician.

Alas, Abel died of tuberculosis at age 26. His early death prompted a colleague to write, “Abel left mathematicians enough to keep them busy for five hundred years.”

Indeed, a prize in Abel’s honor was first proposed in 1899, to celebrate in 1902 the 100th anniversary of his birth. This was at least partially in response to learning that the Nobel Prizes, first awarded in 1901, had no mathematics category. For more on this omission, see On Alfred Nobel and Gösta Mittag-Leffler—a Rumor Squelched, here at SimanaitisSays.

Initial interest in an Abel Prize got complicated by politics, including the 1905 dissolution of Sweden and Norway.

The Abel Prize was first awarded, in honorary fashion, in 2002 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the mathematician’s birth. The first official Abel Prize came a year later.

The Abel Prize has no specification of age. By contrast, Fields Medal awardees must be less than age 40.

And, unlike Nobel Prizes, the Abel Prize for 2019 will include a celebration in the Archimedes Labyrinth, designed by University of Bergen mathematician Hans Munthe-Kaas. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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