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Peter Sarnak awarded the 2024 Shaw Prize

- Wits Alumni Relations

Celebrated mathematician and Wits alumnus acknowledged for his profound impact on number theory.

Professor Peter Sarnak (BSc 1974, BSc Hons 1975, DSc honoris causa 2014) has received the 2024 Shaw Prize for Mathematical Sciences for his development of “the arithmetic theory of thin groups and the affine sieve, by bringing together number theory, analysis, combinatorics, dynamics, geometry and spectral theory”.has received the 2024 Shaw Prize for Mathematics

The award is given annually by the Shaw Prize Foundation, which was founded in 2002 by the Hong-Kong-based philanthropist Run Run Shaw (1907-2014). The Shaw Prize consists of three awards for life sciences and medicine, astronomy and mathematics and comes with a substantial monetary prize.

Prof Sarnak is one of the world’s leading mathematical scientists  and is currently Gopal Prasad Professor in the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study and the Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University in the United States.

In their citation, the Shaw Prize's Mathematical Selection Committee praised Prof Sarnak's “original and deep vision” which has had a “profound impact” on numerous areas of study. Many of Prof Sarnak's major contributions have been motivated by number theory – a branch of pure mathematics devoted primarily to the study of integers (e.g., whole numbers) and arithmetic functions. It is one of the oldest and most fundamental areas of mathematics, with its origins dating back to ancient civilisations. Number theory has been described as the "queen of mathematics" due to its fundamental nature, beauty, and ability to inspire groundbreaking work. While initially considered a purely theoretical field, number theory has found numerous modern applications in cryptography, computer science, communications, physics, and more.Prof Peter Sarnak in 2014 at Wits. receiving his honorary doctorate.

Prof Sarnak was born in Johannesburg, completing his BSc degree at Wits in 1974 and was awarded the Herbert Le May Prize for applied mathematics and the William Cullen Medal for the best graduate in the Faculty of Science in 1974.  He went on to complete his BSc honours in pure mathematics and was awarded the Unico Chemical Company Gold Medal for the Best honours student in the Science Faculty in 1975. He moved on to complete his PhD at Standford in 1980. After he received an honorary doctorate from Wits in 2014 he said:

“I owe much of where I am today to Wits. I stepped onto this great campus in the early 70s, a naïve 18-year-old. Thanks to my teachers and fellow students, the next four years opened my eyes to the world around me from the political to the scientific. Wits transformed me for good!

“The exceptional faculty at Wits introduced me to modern mathematical sciences and I was immediately taken by abstract mathematics – its beauty and the powerful reasoning which allows us to tackle many concrete problems whose solutions lie well below the surface. This quickly became my passion and it remains so to this day.”

Prof Sarnak is a member of the editorial boards of the top journals in these fields and has published over 120 research articles, books, and has supervised numerous PhD students. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Read more from the Shaw Prize website.