Stein chosen to receive National Medal of Science

Princeton NJ -- Mathematician Elias Stein has been selected to receive the National Medal of Science in recognition of his contributions to harmonic analysis, an area of mathematics that has applications throughout the sciences.

Elias Stein


Stein, the Albert Baldwin Dod Professor of Mathematics, is one of 15 scientists selected to receive the award, the nation's highest scientific honor. President George Bush will bestow the medals at a White House ceremony on June 13.

Stein's research focuses on a set of mathematical techniques, called harmonic analysis, originally developed to understand physical phenomena such as sound and light. Physicists and engineers, for example, use harmonic analysis to determine what mixture of frequencies, or colors, are present in a beam of light.

Stein has pioneered the development of these tools into techniques for tackling problems in many areas of abstract mathematics, such as partial differential equations, several complex variables, representation theory and probability theory. Advances in these areas have, in turn, spawned important new applications in applied physics and engineering.

"Eli Stein is certainly a superb mathematician whose work has had a lasting impact on many areas of research," said President Tilghman. "He also has devoted great energy and skill to his teaching. He cares deeply about his students and about conveying to them the beauty of mathematics."

In 2001, the University awarded Stein its President's Award for Distinguished Teaching. He also has received numerous awards for his research, including the Wolf Prize, one of the highest awards in mathematics, and the Schock Prize, which is given by the Swedish Academy of Sciences. He was born in Belgium and received his bachelor's and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago, where he taught until coming to Princeton in 1963.

"I am, of course, very gratified by this award," said Stein. "I do want to emphasize the great scientific debt I owe many other mathematicians," he added, noting particularly the influence of the ideas of two Princeton colleagues, mathematics professors Charles Fefferman and Joseph Kohn.

"The award of the National Medal of Science to Elias Stein is a highly deserved recognition of his remarkable contributions to mathematics and of his unique role as a leader of research in analysis," said Kohn, who is acting chair of the mathematics department. "Stein is one of the foremost experts in harmonic analysis in the world, and he has made stellar contributions to this field as well as related fields such as the theory of several complex variables and partial differential equations. He has had many students and collaborators; he has had a profound influence on a generation of mathematicians."

Among Stein's students is Fefferman, Princeton's Herbert Jones University Professor of Mathematics, who received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1969 under Stein's guidance and is also one of the world's leading mathematicians.

Stein's work, said Fefferman, often combines two remarkable qualities: an understanding of several branches of math, each of which normally is known only by specialists; and an astonishing ability to find connections between them.

"Before Stein tells you his solution," Fefferman said, "the problems involved look utterly hopeless. It looks as if there is no connection. Then, with exactly the right point of view and exactly the right few words, one sees incredible insights that link everything together and make obvious things that would have appeared to be totally impossible.

"He has done things like this over and over again," Fefferman said.

Stein's award brings to 14 the number of Princeton faculty members who have received the National Medal of Science. Princeton astrophysicist Jeremiah Ostriker was a recipient in December 2000, the last time the awards were given.

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 and is administered by the National Science Foundation. A 12-member presidentially appointed committee reviews nominations and recommends potential recipients to the president.

May 20, 2002
Vol. 92, No. 27
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