Peter Sarnak wins 2024 Shaw Prize

Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
June 10, 2024

Professor Peter Sarnak, Princeton's Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University and the Gopal Prasad Professor of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), is the sole winner of the 2024 Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences. Of the 32 laureates in the history of the Shaw Prize, only 10 have won the prize by themselves; the others shared the prize. 

The Shaw Prize citation cites Sarnak's "development of the arithmetic theory of thin groups and the affine sieve, by bringing together number theory, analysis, combinatorics, dynamics, geometry and spectral theory."

"Peter Sarnak is a remarkable mathematician and mentor whose thinking, contributions and intuition shaped, advanced and connected (and continue doing so) many, sometimes seemingly disparate, areas of mathematics," said Igor Rodnianski, chair of Princeton's Department of Mathematics. "His impact on modern mathematics and on multiple generations of mathematicians, the latter through mentorship, inspiration and encouragement, sometimes in the form of conjectures and even letters, can not be overstated."

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sarnak received his bachelor's degree from the University of Witwatersrand in 1974 and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1980. He held fellowships and junior faculty positions at several universities, including New York University, Stanford University, Caltech and Hebrew University, before coming to Princeton in 1991. He became a member of IAS in 1999 and joined their faculty in 2007; he continues to be a professor at both Princeton University and the Institute.

Among his many honors, Sarnak is an honorary member of the London Mathematical Society and the Royal Society of South Africa, a foreign member of the Academia Europea, a fellow of the American Mathematical Society and the (U.K.) Royal Society, and a member of the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His awards include the Sylvester Medal from the Royal Society and the Wolf Prize in Mathematics. Sarnak has also received honorary doctorates from Kings College London (2017), the University of St. Andrews (2016), the University of Chicago (2015), Shandong University in China (2014), the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (2014), and Hebrew University in Jerusalem (2010).

The Shaw Prize, established by media mogul and philanthropist Run Run Shaw in 2002, carries a monetary award of $1.2 million, a gold medal and a certificate. According to their website, the Shaw Prize Foundation "remains dedicated to the promotion of excellence and innovation, and aspires to serve as a beacon of inspiration for those who seek to make a positive impact on society. Through its unwavering commitment to this mission, the Shaw Prize Foundation is poised to encourage and elevate the next generation of scientists and innovators, for the benefit of humankind."

Other Princeton faculty who have received the Shaw Prize include Noga Alon, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics, who won the 2022 Shaw Prize in mathematics; János Kollár, the Donner Professor of Science and professor of mathematics, who won the 2017 Shaw Prize in mathematics; Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology, who won the 2015 Shaw Prize in life science and medicine; Lyman Page, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Physics, and David Spergel, the Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation, Emeritus, who shared the 2010 Shaw Prize in astronomy; and P. James Peebles, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus, and professor of physics, emeritus, who won the 2004 Shaw Prize in astronomy.