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January 29, 2008

Kenig awarded prestigious math prize

Carlos Kenig, Louis Block distinguished service professor in mathematics and the College, was awarded the Maxime Bôcher Prize by the American Mathematical Society this month. The prize is considered one of the highest distinctions in the field and is awarded every three years to a specialist in analysis.

“Analysis is the natural development of calculus,” Kenig said. “It is used to study the properties of functions and solutions to differential equations.”

Kenig’s work is primarily on harmonic analysis. The field was popularized in the 19th century by mathematician Joesph Fourier, who claimed that all functions could be written in terms of sine and cosine. Harmonic analysis, according to Kenig, investigates the validity and consequences of this statement.

Kenig’s award-winning analysis proposes solutions to partial differential equations by estimating the general behavior of the functions.

Although the award comes with a $5,000 prize, Kenig said that the money was not the most exciting aspect of the award.

“The prize is the citation,” he said. “It’s the recognition by your peers.”

Recipients of the prize are selected by a committee that solicits opinions from academics.

Kenig did his graduate work at the University of Chicago and worked under Alberto Calderón, who won the Bôcher prize for co-founding the Chicago School of Analysis in conjunction with his advisor, Antoni Zygmund, 30 years ago. According to Dean of the Physical Sciences Division Robert Fefferman, Kenig, Calderón, and Zygmund together form a “mathematical heritage.”

“[Calderón] is one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century and worked at the University for 45–50 years,” Fefferman said. “If [Fefferman’s analytic contributions] is not the most influential school of analysis, it’s up there. And Professor Kenig is the next generation. I’m very proud of him,” he added.

Kenig said he first became interested in analysis when he came to the U of C.

“I got inspired by Calderón and Zygmund. They created this fantastic school of analysis and somehow I was lucky enough to take classes by both of them,” he said. “It’s a very nice feeling. This is certainly my academic home.”

“For me, this was sort of a culmination,” Kenig added.