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Fields Medal

Historical Introduction

This is the original letter by Fields creating the endowment for the medals that bear his name. It is thought to have been written during the few months before his death. Notice that no mention is made about the age of the recipients (currently there is a 40 year-old limit), and that the medal should not be attached to any person, private or public, meaning that it shouldn't bear anybody's name.

It is proposed to found two gold medals to be awarded at successive International Mathematical Congress for outstanding achievements in mathematics. Because of the multiplicity of the branches of mathematics and taking into account the fact that the interval between such congresses is four years it is felt that at least two medals should be available. The awards would be open to the whole world and would be made by an International Committee.

The fund for the founding of the medals is constituted by balance left over after financing the Toronto congress held in 1924. This must be held in trust by the Government or by some body authorized by government to hold and invest such funds. It would seem that a dignified method for handling the matter and one which in this changing world should most nearly secure permanency would be for the Canadian Government to take over the fund and appoint as his custodian say the Prime Minister of the Dominion or the Prime Minister in association with the Minister of Finance. The medals would be struck at the Mint in Ottawa and the duty of the custodian would be simply to hand over the medals at the proper time to the accredited International Committee.

As things are at present a practical course of procedure would seem to be for the Executive Committee of a Congress to appoint a small international committee authorized to add to its number and call into consultation other mathematicians as it might deem expedient. The Committee would be expected to decide on the ones to whom the awards should be made thirty months in advance of the following Congress. Its decisions would be communicated to the President and Secretary of the Organizing Committee of the Congress, this Committee having the duty of communicating to the Prime Minister of Canada the names of the recipients in order that the medal might be prepared in time and forwarded to the president of the Organizing Committee. Immediately on the appointment of the Executive Committee of the Congress the medals would be handed over to its President. The presentation of the medals would constitute a special feature at some general meeting of the Congress.

In the above arrangements the role of the Organizing Committee might be taken over by the Executive of the International Mathematical Union at some time in the future when that organization has been generally accepted.

In coming to its decision the hands of the IC should be left as free as possible. It would be understood, however, that in making the awards while it was in recognition of work already done it was at the same time intended to be an encouragement for further achievement on the part of the recipients and a stimulus to renewed effort on the part of others.

In commenting on the work of the medalists it might be well to be conservative in one's statements to avoid envidious comparisons explicit or implied. The Committee might ease matters by saying they have decided to make the awards along certain lines not alone because of the outstanding character of the achievement but also with a view to encouraging further development along these lines. In this connection the Committee might say that they had elected to select subjects in Analysis, in Geometry, in the Theory of Groups, in the Theory of Numbers etc. as the case might be. When the Committee had come to an agreement in this sense the claims for recognition of work done along the special lines in question could be considered in detail by two smaller groups or subcommittees with specialized qualifications who would have authority to take into consultation or add to the subcommittees other mathematicians of specialized knowledge.

With regard to the medals themselves, I might say that they should each contain at least 200 dollars worth of gold and be of a fair size, probably 7.5 centimeters in diameter. Because of the international character the language to be employed it would seem should be Latin or Greek? The design has still to be definitely determined. It will have to be decided on by artists in consultation with mathematicians. The suggestions made in the preceding are tentative and open to consideration on the part of mathematicians.

It is not contemplated to make an award until 1936 at the Congress following that at Zurich during which an international Medal Committee should be named.

The above programme means a new departure in the matter of international scientific cooperation and is likely to be the precursor of moves along like lines in other sciences than mathematics.

One would hear again emphasized the fact that the medals should be of a character as purely international and impersonal as possible. There should not be attached to them in any way the name of any country, institution or person.

Perhaps provision could be made as soon as possible after the appointment of the Executive of the Zurich Congress for the consideration by it of the subject of the medals, and the appointment without undue delay of a Committee and the awards of the medals to be made in connection with the Congress of 1936.

Suggestions with regard to the design of the medals will be welcome.

(signed) J.C. Fields Research Professor of Mathematics University of Toronto

More information may also be found at


Table of Awardees

Year Name                       Birthplace      Country         Age

1936 Ahlfors, Lars              Helsinki        Finland         29
1936 Douglas, Jesse             New York, NY    USA             39
1950 Schwartz, Laurent          Paris           France          35
1950 Selberg, Atle              Langesund       Norway          33
1954 Kodaira, Kunihiko          Tokyo           Japan           39
1954 Serre, Jean-Pierre         Bages           France          27
1958 Roth, Klaus                Breslau         Germany         32
1958 Thom, Rene                 Montbeliard     France          35
1962 Hormander, Lars            Mjallby         Sweden          31
1962 Milnor, John               Orange, NJ      USA             31
1966 Atiyah, Michael            London          UK              37
1966 Cohen, Paul                Long Branch NJ  USA             32
1966 Grothendieck, Alexander    Berlin          Germany         38
1966 Smale, Stephen             Flint, MI       USA             36
1970 Baker, Alan                London          UK              31
1970 Hironaka, Heisuke          Yamaguchi-ken   Japan           39
1970 Novikov, Serge             Gorki           USSR            32
1970 Thompson, John             Ottawa, KA      USA             37
1974 Bombieri, Enrico           Milan           Italy           33
1974 Mumford, David             Worth, Sussex   UK              37
1978 Deligne, Pierre            Brussels        Belgium         33
1978 Fefferman, Charles         Washington DC   USA             29
1978 Margulis, Gregori          Moscow          USSR            32
1978 Quillen, Daniel            Orange, NJ      USA             38
1982 Connes, Alain              Draguignan      France          35
1982 Thurston, William          Washington DC   USA             35
1982 Yau, Shing-Tung            Kwuntung        Hong Kong       33
1986 Donaldson, Simon           Cambridge       UK              27
1986 Faltings, Gerd                             Germany         32
1986 Freedman, Michael          Los Angeles     USA             35
1990 Drinfeld, Vladimir         Kharkov         USSR            36
1990 Jones, Vaughan             Gisborne        N Zealand       38
1990 Mori, Shigefumi            Nagoya          Japan           39
1990 Witten, Edward             Baltimore       USA             38
1994 Pierre-Louis Lions         ????            France          38
1994 Jean-Chrisophe Yoccoz      ????            France          36
1994 Jean Bourgain              ????            Belgium         40
1994 Efim Zelmanov              ????            Russia          39

Year Name                       Institution                             Country

1936 Ahlfors, Lars              Harvard University                      USA
1936 Douglas, Jesse             MIT                                     USA
1950 Schwartz, Laurent          Universite de Nancy                     France
1950 Selberg, Atle              Princeton/Inst. of Advanced Studies     USA
1954 Kodaira, Kunihiko          Princeton University                    USA
1954 Serre, Jean-Pierre         College de France                       France
1958 Roth, Klaus                University of London                    UK
1958 Thom, Rene                 University of Strasbourg                France
1962 Hormander, Lars            University of Stockholm                 Sweden
1962 Milnor, John               Princeton University                    USA
1966 Atiyah, Michael            Oxford University                       UK
1966 Cohen, Paul                Stanford University                     USA
1966 Grothendieck, Alex         University of Paris                     France
1966 Smale, Stephen             University of California at Berkeley    USA
1970 Baker, Alan                Cambridge University                    UK
1970 Hironaka, Heisuke          Harvard University                      USA
1970 Novikov, Serge             Moscow University                       USSR
1970 Thompson, John             University of Chicago                   USA
1974 Bombieri, Enrico           Univeristy of Pisa                      Italy
1974 Mumford, David             Harvard University                      USA
1978 Deligne, Pierre            IHES                                    France
1978 Fefferman, Charles         Princeton University                    USA
1978 Margulis, Gregori          InstPrblmInfTrans                       USSR
1978 Quillen, Daniel            MIT                                     USA
1982 Connes, Alain              IHES                                    France
1982 Thurston, William          Princeton University                    USA
1982 Yau, Shing-Tung            IAS                                     USA
1986 Donaldson, Simon           Oxford University                       UK
1986 Faltings, Gerd             Princeton University                    USA
1986 Freedman, Michael          University of California at San Diego   USA
1990 Drinfeld, Vladimir         Phys.Inst.Kharkov                       USSR
1990 Jones, Vaughan             University of California at Berkeley    USA
1990 Mori, Shigefumi            University of Kyoto?                    Japan
1990 Witten, Edward             Princeton/Institute of Advanced Studies USA
1994 Pierre-Louis Lions         Universite de Paris-Dauphine            France
1994 Jean-Chrisophe Yoccoz      Universite de Paris-Sud                 France
1994 Jean Bourgain              Princeton/Inst.for Advanced Study       USA
1994 Efim Zelmanov              University of Wisconsin                 USA


International Mathematical Congresses, An Illustrated History 1893-1986. Donald J.Alberts, G. L. Alexanderson and Constance Reid. Revised Edition, Including 1986, Springer Verlag, 1987.

Tropp, Henry S. The origins and history of the Fields Medal. Historia Mathematica, 3(1976), 167-181.

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Alex Lopez-Ortiz
Fri Feb 20 21:45:30 EST 1998