The life of John Forbes Nash Jr., the Princeton University mathematician who, along with his wife, Alicia, died 23 May in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, was never lacking in drama. It was only last week that Nash stood before a crowd of well-wishers in Oslo as the Norwegian king, Harald V, presented Nash with the Abel Prize.
Nash had already won the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics for his work in game theory—an event that became the redemption scene in the 2001 biopic about Nash, A Beautiful Mind. But the Abel Prize celebrated Nash’s accomplishments in geometry, which Mikhail Gromov, another Abel Prize winner, described as “incomparably greater than what he has done in economics, by many orders of magnitude.”
I, too, was in Oslo last week, selected by the World Federation of Science Journalists to observe and report as Nash and his Abel co-laureate, Louis Nirenberg, a mathematician at New York University, received their awards. I worked my contacts and reported what I could. But frankly, I wasn’t surprised that my attempts at pitching the story to various media outlets were mostly in vain. Except for the Nobels, there is really not a lot of interest in prizes. That interest is vanishingly small when the prize, like this year’s Abels, was announced 2 months ago.
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