The Abel Prize ( AH-bəl; Norwegian: Abelprisen [ˈɑ̀ːbl̩ˌpriːsn̩]) is awarded annually by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians. It is named after the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) and directly modeled after the Nobel Prizes. It comes with a monetary award of 7.5 million Norwegian kroner (NOK) (increased from 6 million NOK in 2019).
The Abel Prize's history dates back to 1899, when its establishment was proposed by the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie when he learned that Alfred Nobel's plans for annual prizes would not include a prize in mathematics. In 1902, King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway indicated his willingness to finance the creation of a mathematics prize to complement the Nobel Prizes, but the establishment of the prize was prevented by the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905. It took almost a century before the prize was finally established by the Government of Norway in 2001, and it was specifically intended "to give the mathematicians their own equivalent of a Nobel Prize." The laureates are selected by the Abel Committee, the members of whom are appointed by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
The award ceremony takes place in the aula of the University of Oslo, where the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded between 1947 and 1989. The Abel Prize board has also established an Abel symposium, administered by the Norwegian Mathematical Society, which takes place twice a year.
The prize was first proposed in 1899, to be part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Niels Henrik Abel's birth in 1802. The Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie proposed establishing an Abel Prize when he learned that Alfred Nobel's plans for annual prizes would not include a prize in mathematics. King Oscar II was willing to finance a mathematics prize in 1902, and the mathematicians Ludwig Sylow and Carl Størmer drew up statutes and rules for the proposed prize. However, Lie's influence decreased after his death, and the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905 ended the first attempt to create an Abel Prize.
After interest in the concept of the prize had risen in 2001, a working group was formed to develop a proposal, which was presented to the Prime Minister of Norway in May. In August 2001, the Norwegian government announced that the prize would be awarded beginning in 2002, the two-hundredth anniversary of Abel's birth. Atle Selberg received an honorary Abel Prize in 2002, but the first actual Abel Prize was awarded in 2003.
Anyone may submit a nomination for the Abel Prize, although self-nominations are not permitted. The nominee must be alive. If the awardee dies after being declared the winner, the prize will be awarded posthumously.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters declares the winner of the Abel Prize each March after recommendation by the Abel Committee, which consists of five leading mathematicians. Both Norwegians and non-Norwegians may serve on the Committee. They are elected by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and nominated by the International Mathematical Union and the European Mathematical Society. As of 2019, the committee is chaired by Norwegian mathematician Hans Munthe-Kaas (University of Bergen), and before then was headed by Professor John Rognes.
The Norwegian Government gave the prize an initial funding of NOK 200 million (about €21.7 million) in 2001. Previously, the funding came from the Abel foundation, but today the prize is financed directly through the national budget.
Similar to Nobel Prizes, the Abel Prize has been criticized for the fact that recipients poorly reflect the geographic, ethnic, and gender diversity of the world. For example, in its first twenty years, only one woman has received the prize, and all recipients have worked in the United States, Western Europe or Hungary, or Israel. Likewise, nearly all recipients worked in various fields of pure mathematics, whereas that is only true for around half of all professional mathematicians.