John Charles Fields

Pure and Applied Mathematics

Established the Fields medal, the "Nobel Prize" of mathematics.

John Charles Fields was the first significant research mathematician at the University of Toronto. He was internationally known at the time, and was active in such prestigious scientific societies as the Royal Society of London and the British and American Associations for the Advancement of Science.

Following graduation from Johns Hopkins University in 1887, Fields was appointed Professor of Mathematics at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He left Allegheny in 1892 to continue his studies in the mathematical centres of Europe of that time - Paris and Göttingen (Germany). He came to the University of Toronto in 1902 as a special lecturer, and in 1923 was appointed research professor.
Fields did original research in the theory of algebraic functions that was influenced by his reknowned European mentors Immanuel Lazarus Fuchs, Georg Frobenius, Kurt Hensel, Hermann Schwarz, and Max Planck. His research and equations are known for their elegance and simplicity. However he is best remembered for conceiving the idea of, and for providing funds for, an international medal for mathematical distinction. First awarded in 1936, the Fields Medals are presented every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians to two to four deserving mathematicians under the age of 40.
Fields helped establish the National Research Council of Canada, and the Ontario Research Foundation. He served as president of the Royal Canadian Institute from 1919 until 1925. In 1924, Fields was honoured by being elected President of the International Congress of Mathematicians, held at Toronto.

Sources: U of T website; U of St. Andrews, Math Dept. website; "Notable Mathematicians," Robyn V. Young, ed. (1998).

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