Chern Medal – Louis Nirenberg

Louis Nirenberg of Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University (NYU), has been selected to be the first recipient of the Chern Medal for his role in the formulation of the modern theory of non-liner elliptic partial differential equations and for mentoring numerous students and post-docs in this area.

Chern Medal - Louis Nirenberg, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences

Chern Medal - Louis Nirenberg, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences

Nirenberg is one of the outstanding analysts and geometers of the 20th Century and his work has had a major influence in the development of several areas of mathematics and their applications. He has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of linear and non-linear partial differential equations (PDEs) and related aspects of complex analysis and geometry, the basic mathematical tools of modern science. He developed intricate connections between analysis and differential geometry and applied them to the theory of fluid flow and other physical phenomena.

Nirenberg’s name is associated with several major developments in analysis in the last 65 years. His theorem with August Newlander on the existence of almost complex structures has become a classic. One of the most widely quoted results in analysis is that a priori estimates for general linear elliptic systems, which he obtained with Shmuel Agmon and Avron Douglis. His fundamental work with Fritz John on functions of bounded mean oscillation was crucial for later work of Charles Fefferman on the space of such functions. In collaboration with Joseph Kohn, he introduced the nation of pseudo-differential operator, which has been influential in many areas of mathematics. Other significant works of Nirenberg, which he has carried out in collaboration with others, have been on solvability of PDEs, existence of smooth solutions of a class of PDEs and equations of fluid motion of Navier-Stokes kind.

Nirenberg is recognized for his excellent lectures and lucid expository writing. He has published over 185 papers and has had 46 students and 245 descendents according to the Mathematics Genealogy Project. In each of the last 10 years, top 15 cited papers in mathematics include at least 2 of Nirenberg, according to MathSciNet.

Kohn has said this of him: “Nirenberg’s career has been an inspiration; his numerous students, collaborators, and colleagues have learned a great deal from him. Aside from mathematics, Nirenberg has taught all of us the enjoyment of travel, movies, and gastronomy. An appreciation of Nirenberg also must include his ever-present sense of humour. His humour is irrepressible, so that on occasion it makes its way to the printed page.”

In an interview in April 2002, Nirenberg said: “I wrote one paper with Philip Hartman that was elementary but enormous fun to do. That’s the thing I try to get across to people who don’t know anything about mathematics, what fun it is! One of the wonders of mathematics is you go somewhere in the world and you meet other mathematicians, and it’s like one big family. This large family is a wonderful joy.”

Brief Biodata

Nirenberg was born on February 25, 1925, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from McGill University in 1945, he went to NYU from where he obtained his M. S. in 1947 and Ph. D in 1949, under the direction of James Stoker. Nirenberg then joined the faculty of NYU. He was one of the original members of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. After spending his entire academic career at Courant, he retired in 1999. He is now an Emeritus Professor there.

Nirenberg has received several awards and honours, chief among them being the American Mathematical Society’s Bôcher Prize in 1959 for his work on PDEs, Jeffrey-Williams Prize of the Canadian Mathematical Society in 1987 and the Steele Prize of the AMS in 1994 for Lifetime Achievement. In 1982 he (along with late V. I. Arnold) was the first recipient in mathematics of the Crafoord Prize, established by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in areas not covered by the Nobel Prizes. In 1995 he received the National Medal of Science, the highest honour in the U. S. for contributions to science.


Email: nirenberg at
Phone: (212)-998-3192
Mailing address: Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, 251 Mercer St., New York, NY 10012 USA.

The laudations by Yan Yan Li
The work profile by R. Ramachandran

  This page was last modified on August 19, 2010

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