Mathematician Harold Widom honored by American Mathematical Society

Harold Widom and Craig Tracy will receive the 2020 Steele Prize for Seminal Contribution to Research.

Harold Widom
Harold Widom (photo by Linda Larkin)

The American Mathematical Society will award the 2020 Steele Prize for Seminal Contribution to Research in Analysis/Probability Theory to Harold Widom, distinguished professor emeritus of mathematics at UC Santa Cruz, and Craig Tracy, distinguished professor of mathematics at UC Davis.

The prize recognizes Tracy and Widom for their 1994 paper "Level-spacing distributions and the Airy kernel," published in Communications in Mathematical Physics. This paper, which introduced what are now known as Tracy-Widom distributions, is considered a major breakthrough of lasting importance.

Widom's early research was in the areas of integral equations and operator theory, which led to a later interest in random matrix theory and his long-lasting collaboration with Tracy. Widom and Tracy shared the prestigious George Pólya Prize in 2002 for their work, and later received the 2007 Norbert Wiener Prize in Applied Mathematics.

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Mathematical Society, Widom received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1955 and joined the UCSC faculty in 1968. He was awarded the Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship in 2007.

The Steele Prize for Seminal Contribution to Research is awarded annually for a paper, whether recent or not, that has proved to be of fundamental or lasting importance in its field or a model of important research. The subject area of the prize rotates among six research areas. The 2020 prize will be awarded on Thursday, January 16, during the Joint Prize Session at the 2020 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Denver.