abel award
Credit: Pixabay

While women face gender discrimination in just about every field, the world of STEM is notoriously male-dominated. Even today, female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians remain in the minority. Which is why we’re cheering over news that Karen Uhlenbeck, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, has just become the first female mathematician to win the prestigious Abel Prize (basically the Nobel Prize of math). HuffPost reports that the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters made the announcement today, March 19th. As part of the award, Uhlenbeck will receive six million Norwegian kroner, which is equal to about $700,000.

According to The New York Times, Uhlenbeck’s greatest mathematical contribution is in a field called geometric analysis. Her work has been instrumental in quantum physics, and techniques that she developed are still used today. The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters notes that her research “lays the foundation for contemporary geometric models in mathematics and physics.”

The academy also points out that she has been “a role model and strong advocate for gender equality in science and mathematics.” It notes that she helped co-found the Women and Mathematics program at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, which aims to recruit and provide support for female mathematicians.

The Times notes that since there is no Nobel Prize in mathematics, the Abel Prize is considered to be its equivalent in the field. It has been presented annually since 2003, and all previous 19 winners were men. Math’s other top prize, the Fields Medal, has only been presented to one woman, Maryam Mirzakhani, who received it in 2014.

The Abel Prize is a monumental accomplishment, but it’s not the only prestigious award Uhlenbeck has received. In 2000, President Bill Clinton presented her with a National Medal of Science, and according to the Times, she received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1983. We can’t wait to see the incredible women who will undoubtedly follow in her footsteps—and forge new paths of their own.