The second Abel Prize has been awarded to Michael Francis Atiyah and Isadore M. Singer for "their discovery and proof of the index theorem, bringing together topology, geometry and analysis, and their outstanding role in building new bridges between mathematics and theoretical physics".
Atiyah, of the University of Edinburgh, and Singer, of MIT, won the $750,000 award because their work has done more than just solve a mathematical problem. The index theorem has many applications in theoretical physics as well as mathematics, and the researchers used this bridge to try to bring mathematicians and physicists to a better understanding of each others' work.
It has been used in gauge theory, instantons, monopoles, string theory and the theory of anomalies. This allowed for a transfer of ideas from phyics to maths and vice-versa, bringing differential geometry to the attention of physicists working in Quantum Field Theory.
The prize is named after Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel. He died at the age of 26, after a brief but extraordinary career. The prize fund was established in January 2002 and is intended to recognise outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. ®
More about the Abel prize can be found here.