From Nancy to Copenhagen to the World: the internationalization of Laurent Schwartz and his theory of distributions. (English. French summary) Zbl 1379.01018

This paper documents the rapid rise of Laurent Schwartz to mathematical celebrity after the Second World War and his award of the Fields Medal in 1950 for his theory of distributions. It shows that while some eminent analysts such as Marcel Riesz were initially sceptical of the power of this theory, others, notably Harald Bohr, were enthusiastic. Schwartz began to develop his theory around 1944, and it was warmly welcomed by the Bourbaki group, several of whom Schwartz knew personally. An invitation to Copenhagen in 1947 proved crucial to the theory’s international acceptance, for it was then that Bohr heard Schwartz’s lectures and was able to spread the theory in the United States, where he toured in 1948. For once, there are sources that partially document how the decision of the Fields Medal Committee was arrived at, and this paper reports that Bohr, in the chair, had to steer the members firmly away from choosing André Weil instead. This he did partly on the grounds of age (Weil was 44 in 1950) and partly because he was, if anything, too qualified. Bohr then gave the speech at the ICM that presented medals to Schwartz and Selberg.


01A60 History of mathematics in the 20th century
01A70 Biographies, obituaries, personalia, bibliographies
46-03 History of functional analysis

Biographic References:

Schwartz, Laurent
Full Text: DOI


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