Imperial College London

Celebrated Imperial mathematician lauded at Wolf Prize ceremony


Professor Donaldson holding his certificate and President Professor Gast

Professor Donaldson and Professor Gast

Imperial’s Professor Sir Simon Donaldson has received the joint 2020 Wolf Prize for Mathematics, one of the most prestigious academic accolades.

Professor Sir Simon Donaldson, Chair in Pure Mathematics at Imperial, received the Wolf Prize for Mathematics for his contribution to differential geometry and topology. He shares the $100,000 award with Professor Yakov Eliashberg from Stanford University.

It’s a wonderous thing for me to join this extraordinary list of Wolf Prize laureates. Professor Sir Simon Donaldson Department of Mathematics

The prize was presented by Imperial's President Professor Alice Gast at an award ceremony in June. Speaking at the event, Professor Donaldson said: “I thank the Wolf Foundation for this great honour…The Prize’s laureates are people who have shaped the mathematics of the past 100 years. It’s a wonderous thing for me to join this extraordinary list of Wolf Prize laureates.”

The Wolf Prize is one of the most esteemed prizes in the world and - alongside the Fields Medal, which Professor Donaldson also holds - is considered the closest equivalent to a 'Nobel Prize for Mathematics'. The prize is awarded in Israel each year to outstanding scientists and artists from around the world for “achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples.”

Most people experience the world in three dimensions, but Simon has given us revelatory insights into the fourth dimension. Professor Alice Gast President, Imperial College London

Professor Gast said: “This prize recognises Simon’s work as one of the world’s pre-eminent mathematicians. Most people experience the world in three dimensions, but Simon has given us revelatory insights into the fourth dimension. While a number of us have used mathematics to solve physics problems, Simon applies physics to solve mathematical problems – an approach that has ultimately led to impressive advances in both. This accolade is well deserved.”

The Wolf Prize follows Professor Donaldson’s receipt of the Fields Medal in 1986, and the $3m Breakthrough prize in 2014. Other winners include Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, Allan Macdonald and Rafi Bistritzer for physics, Cindy Sherman in art and Caroline Dean in agriculture. Previous recipients of Wolf Prizes include Steven Hawking and Paul McCartney.

Professor Gast awarding Professor Donaldson a medal

Professor Nick Jennings, Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise) at Imperial, said: “Simon’s outstanding work has transformed his field along with several aligned disciplines, leading to a step change in our understanding of mathematics.

"We are very proud to count him among our community and congratulate him wholeheartedly on this fitting honour.”

Unique and novel ideas

Professor Donaldson is renowned for his work on the topology of smooth (differentiable) four-dimensional manifolds and the Donaldson–Thomas theory. His research includes a unique combination of novel ideas in global non-linear analysis, topology, algebraic geometry, and theoretical physics.

As a graduate student at the University of Oxford, Professor Donaldson made a discovery that earned him international esteem and stunned the mathematical world. He showed that there are phenomena in 4-dimensions which have no counterpart in any other dimension. This went against the accepted understanding at the time.

Professor Donaldson is renowned for applying physics to solve mathematical problems, a remarkable reversal of the usual interaction of these two subjects. His worked has led to a greater unity between the two subjects, resulting in great progress in both. Many of his theories are now pervasive throughout many branches of modern mathematics and physics.

Professor Donaldson and President Professor Gast with guests at the celebration event

Images: Jo Mieszkowski


Caroline Brogan

Caroline Brogan
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