The Fields Medal is a prize awarded to mathematicians not over 40 years of age at each International Congress of the International Mathematical Union, a meeting that takes place every four years. The Fields Medal is widely viewed as the top honor a mathematician can receive. It comes with a monetary award, which in 2006 was C$15,000 (US$15,000 or €10,000). Founded at the behest of Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields, the medal was first awarded in 1936, to Finnish mathematician Lars Ahlfors and American mathematician Jesse Douglas and has been regularly awarded since 1950. Its purpose is to give recognition and support to younger mathematical researchers who have made major contributions.
The Fields Medal is often described as the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics" for the prestige it carries, though in most other ways the relatively new Abel Prize is a more direct analogue. The comparison is not entirely accurate because the Fields Medal is only awarded every four years. The Medal also has an age limit: a recipient's 40th birthday must not occur before January 1 of the year in which the Fields Medal is awarded. This rule is based on Fields' desire that… while it was in recognition of work already done, it was at the same time intended to be an encouragement for further achievement on the part of the recipients and a stimulus to renewed effort on the part of others.The monetary award is much lower than the roughly US$1.5 million given with each Nobel prize. Finally, Fields Medals have generally been awarded for a body of work, rather than for a particular result; and instead of a direct citation there is a speech of congratulation.Other major awards in mathematics, such as the Wolf Prize in Mathematics and the Abel Prize, recognise lifetime achievement, again making them different in kind from the Nobels, although the Abel has a large monetary prize like a Nobel. The Fields Medal has the prestige of the selection by the IMU, which represents the world mathematical communityThe Fields Medals are commonly regarded as mathematics' closest analog to the Nobel Prize (which does not exist in mathematics), and are awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union to one or more outstanding researchers. "Fields Medals" are more properly known by their official name, "International medals for outstanding discoveries in mathematics."The Fields Medal is made of gold, and shows the head of Archimedes (287-212 BC) together with a quotation attributed to him: "Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri" ("Rise above oneself and grasp the world"). The reverse side bears the inscription: "Congregati ex toto orbe mathematici ob scripta insignia tribuere" ("the mathematicians assembled here from all over the world pay tribute for outstanding work").Nobel prizes were created in the will of the Swedish chemist and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel, but Nobel, who was an inventor and industrialist, did not create a prize in mathematics because he was not particularly interested in mathematics or theoretical science.
Grigory Perelman, a reclusive Russian mathematician, has solved a key piece in a century-old puzzle known as the Poincaré conjecture. Dr. Perelman was one of four mathematicians awarded the Fields Medal for achievement in mathematics but as with his previous honors, Dr. Perelman refused to accept this one, and he did not attend the ceremonies at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid, even though Sir John M. Ball, president of the Union, had personally flown to St Petersburg and asked Dr. Perelman to attend the ceremony.