Legendary Russian academic Yakov Sinai awarded ‘math Nobel’

Yakov G.Sinai (AFP Photo /  Princeton University handout photo)
Russian mathematician Yakov Sinai has received the Abel Prize – worth over $1 million – for his lifetime contribution to the discipline.

"Yakov Sinai is one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century," the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, which awarded the annual honor, said in a statement.

“He has achieved numerous groundbreaking results in the theory of dynamical systems, in mathematical physics and in probability theory."

The Abel Prize, named after prodigious Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, was instituted in 2003 by the Norwegian government in an effort to reward a field that historically has been neglected by the Nobel Prize Committee.

“All of my honors are very important to me,” Sinai, 78, said when asked of his feelings about his latest award during a reception at the University of Princeton, where he still lectures.

“If I have many children, it is hard for me to answer the question of which one I like more. I like all of my honors."

Born into an established Russian-Jewish academic family, Sinai made his breakthrough while still in his twenties at Moscow State University. His most influential work concerns applying mathematical principles to analyze dynamic – and apparently chaotic – physical phenomena, such as weather, microscopic particles or the movement of planets.

Subsequently, he lent his name to multiple key theorems, such as the Kolmogorov-Sinai entropy, Sinai's billiards, Sinai's random walk, the Sinai-Ruelle-Bowen measures and the Pirogov-Sinai theory.

Yakov G.Sinai in 1976

Despite growing international acclaim, Sinai’s official career stalled after he supported Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin, a dissident mathematician and human rights activist persecuted by the Soviet authorities. He was often forbidden from attending international congresses, as well as being passed over for promotion multiple times.

Sinai emigrated to the United States shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In recent years his stature has blossomed, and he has been granted the Wolf, Dirac and Poincare prizes. His only missing major honor is the Fields Medal, which is only bestowed on mathematicians under 40, though Sinai did once chair the committee that awards it.