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January 30, 2008
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Brown Mathematician David Mumford Wins Prestigious Wolf Prize

David Mumford, a pioneering Brown University mathematician, has won the 2008 Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics, one of the world’s top science prizes.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University mathematician David Mumford has won the 2008 Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics for groundbreaking theoretical work in algebraic geometry. The Wolf Prize is one of the most prestigious honors in mathematics.

David Mumford

“David Mumford is a highly original thinker, a very distinguished member of the Brown faculty, and an extremely influential member of the scientific community worldwide,” said Brown Provost David Kertzer. “This award is testament to his wide-ranging intelligence and the tremendous impact of his work.”

The Wolf Foundation of Israel is a private nonprofit that awards prizes each year to outstanding scientists and artists in six fields: agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics and the arts. Prizes come with a diploma and $100,000. Scholars will receive their awards from Israeli President Shimon Peres in a Jerusalem ceremony on May 25, 2008.

Mumford, professor emeritus in the Department of Applied Mathematics at Brown, shares the 2008 mathematics prize with Pierre Deligne and Phillip Griffiths of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. According to the Wolf Foundation, Mumford is being recognized for his “work on algebraic surfaces; on geometric invariant theory; and for laying the foundations of the modern algebraic theory of the moduli space of curves and theta functions.”

Mumford’s contributions to mathematics fundamentally changed algebraic geometry and were the grounds for winning the Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics, in 1974. He is perhaps best known for inventing geometric invariant theory, a concrete theory in algebraic geometry that forms the heart of moduli theory, the study of how geometric structures vary. His studies of curves laid the foundation for string theory in physics.

Mumford’s work in computer vision and pattern theory has been equally influential. He showed how to reformulate problems of image restoration and interpretation, opening the computer vision field to mathematical scrutiny. Mumford significantly contributed to yet another field – neurobiology – by publishing experimental and theoretical work on computation and how it occurs in the neocortex and thalamus.

“David has not only made fundamental contributions in one area of math and science, but in several far-flung areas,” said Paul Dupuis, professor and chair of Brown’s Division of Applied Mathematics. “I remember his 70th birthday party last year and it was an improbable gathering of theorists and applied scientists, people who study algebraic geometry and people who study the brain. To have such a successful and varied career is a real mark of distinction.”

Mumford is one of Brown’s most celebrated scholars. Along with the Fields Medal, he won the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences in 2006 and the Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition in 2007. Mumford is a MacArthur “genius” grant winner and is an elected member of several international science academies. He served as president of the International Mathematical Union from 1995 to 1999.

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