Endre Szemerédi, who has positions both at Rutgers University in the USA, and the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics in Hungary, has been awarded the 2012 Abel Prize for mathematics.

The Abel Prize, which is accompanied by a monetary award of approximately USD$1 million, is widely considered comparable to the Nobel Prize. It has been granted by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters since 2003. It is named for the 19th century Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, who did groundbreaking work in algebra and analysis, including the first complete proof that a general fifth degree polynomial is not solvable in terms of radicals.

According to the Abel Prize announcement, Szemerédi was cited “for his fundamental contributions to discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science.” His work, in general terms, implies that discrete systems consisting of large numbers of components possess some identifiable structure, even if composed at “random.” What’s more, there are useful aspects of randomness even within systems that are highly structured.

His most famous result establishes the presence of arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions within any set of integers that has nonzero limiting density. This theorem, which Szemerédi proved in 1975, had been an unsolved problem for decades. It was first posed by famed Hungarian mathematicians Paul Turán and Paul Erdös.

Szemerédi has published over 200 papers, spanning five decades. At the age of 71, he continues active research work, and according to colleagues shows no signs of slowing down.

This award continues the Abel Prize committee’s catholic tradition of recognizing a wide range of mathematical accomplishments, including those that have implications and connections to fields well outside the realm of traditional theoretical mathematical research. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abel_Prize for a complete list of Laureates)

For additional details, see Barry Cipra’s article on the sciencemag.org website, from which some of the above material was excerpted.