Niels Henrik Abel was born in Finnøy, Norway, in 1802, the second of a Norwegian minister’s seven children. His math teacher in Christiania (now Oslo), Bernt Holmboe, raised money from his colleagues to send Abel to the University of Oslo in 1821. Learn more about the pioneering Norwegian mathematician.
In 1824, Abel published his groundbreaking work on the insolubility of fifth degree (quintic) equations, which had been challenging mathematicians for 250 years. But save to money on printing, he had to cut his proof down to six pages, making it difficult to understand.
In 1825, he was given a travel scholarship by the Norwegian government, and traveled around Europe. In Berlin, he met August Leopold Crelle, who published a clearer version of Abel’s quintic solution in 1827. While waiting in Paris for another paper to be reviewed, Abel contracted tuberculosis.
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Heavenly in debt, Abel returned in 1827 to Oslo, where he tutored schoolchildren while his fiancée Christine Kemp worked as a governess in Froland. Sadly, his health deteriorated and he died in 1829, at the age of just 26, following the sled journey to visit her for Christmas.
Two days after Abel’s death, his fiancée received a letter announcing Abel’s appointment as a professor in Berlin. In 1830 his work was recognized by the Paris Academy; French mathematician Charles Hermite said that in six years, “Abel has left mathematicians enough to keep them busy for 500 years.”
The Abel Prize is awarded on 24 May in Oslo.
The Pioneering Norwegian Mathematician, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Niels Henrik Abel (National Museum in Oslo)