Person: Fields, John Charles
J C Fields provided funds for an international medal for mathematical distinction: the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel prize.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- John Charles Fields Senior was a merchant who owned a leather shop at 32 King Street West, Hamilton, but travelled extensively in the United Kingdom and Europe.
- Fields attended Hamilton Collegiate Institute where he proved himself to be an outstanding pupil.
- After leaving Hamilton Collegiate Institute, Fields entered the University of Toronto in 1880 to study mathematics.
- He then went to the United States to study for his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University.
- Fields was appointed in 1889 Professor of Mathematics at Allegheny College, one of the oldest colleges in Pennsylvania, but resigned after three years so that he might further his mathematical researches by studying in Europe.
- From 1892 to 1900 Fields studied in Paris, Göttingen and Berlin with Fuchs, Frobenius, Hensel, Schwarz, Weierstrass, and Planck.
- In 1902 Fields was appointed to the position of lecturer at the University of Toronto where he remained until his death, although he frequently visited Europe where he was acquainted with many national leaders.
- It was, however, rather as an organiser of mathematics that Fields excelled.
- In 1922, following the collapse of a bid from New York to hold the 1924 Congress, Fields made a bid to hold it in Toronto under the auspices of the International Mathematical Union, and although this meant that the congress could not be truly international because of the exclusion rules, it did prevent a break-up of the congress.
- This was not easily achieved and Fields spend several months in Europe working relentlessly to make the Congress a success.
- Fields is best remembered for conceiving the idea of, and for providing funds for, an international medal for mathematical distinction.
- Fields had everything in place to travel to the September 1932 Congress in Zürich to put forward his proposal for Medals.
- Adopted at the International Congress of Mathematicians at Zürich in 1932, the first Fields Medals were awarded at the Oslo Congress of 1936.
- Notice that they were named "Fields Medals" despite his wish that they should not bear anyone's name.
- Fields Medals were to be awarded to two mathematicians under 40 years of age every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians.
- These conditions were set down to recognise Fields's wish that the awards recognise both work completed and point to the potential for future achievement.
- Notice that the 40 age limit was not explicitly due to Fields.
- The first Fields Medals were awarded to Lars Ahlfors and Jesse Douglas in 1936.
- A prize of 15,000 Canadian dollars is awarded with each Fields Medal, which is made of gold, and shows the head of Archimedes.
- Fields received several important honours.
- In 1924 the International Congress of Mathematicians was held at Toronto and Fields was honoured by being President of the Congress.
- An interesting aside is that the Italian Government wanted to honour Fields with the title "Commander of the Crown of Italy", but the Canadian Government had a law forbidding Canadian citizens from holding titles, so Fields had to refuse the Italian government's offer.
- Let us end this biography by giving a few details of Fields's life outside the world of mathematics.
Born 14 May 1863, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Died 9 August 1932, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Prize Fields Medal, Origin Canada, Prize Wolf
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive