Professor Karen Uhlenbeck

Professor Karen Uhlenbeck is an American mathematician and a founder of modern geometric analysis.

Karen is an emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study and a visiting senior research scholar at Princeton University.

As a child, Uhlenbeck loved reading and it was here her interest in physics developed:

As a child I read a lot, and I read everything... I was particularly interested in reading about science. I was about twelve years old when my father began bringing home Fred Hoyle's books on astrophysics. I found them very interesting. I also remember a little paperback book called "One, Two, Three, (and, in?) Infinity" by George Gamow, and I remember the excitement of understanding this very sophisticated argument that there were two different kinds of infinities.

Professor Karen Uhlenbeck

However it wasn’t until Uhlenbeck went to the University of Michigan, to study physics, that her love for mathematics grew and she switched courses. In 1964 she graduated with a BSc and then moved to Brandeis University where she gained her masters in 1966 and PhD in 1968. 

After marrying a fellow academic, Uhlenbeck describes her search for a permanent position: 

“I was told, when looking for jobs after my year at MIT and two years at Berkeley, that people did not hire women, that women were supposed to go home and have babies. So the places interested in my husband - MIT, Stanford, and Princeton - were not interested in hiring me. I remember that I was told that there were nepotism rules and that they could not hire me for this reason, although when I called them on this issue years later they did not remember saying these things.“

After a career including a lectureship at the University of California and a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and Professorship at the University of Chicago, Uhlenbeck was appointed Professor at the University of Texas at Austin in 1988, where she also holds the Sid W Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in Mathematics. Over the years she has won many accolades and awards for her research and work, primarily in the field of partial differential equations. 

Uhlenbeck’s extraordinary depth and influence in the field of mathematics, were globally noted in 2019, when she was announced as the Abel Prize Laureate for "her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory, and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics." The prize citation read that her research has “led to some of the most dramatic advances in mathematics in the last 40 years.” 

She is the first woman to win the prize since its inception in 2003.