Two unlikely women to feature in this week’s blog. Both brilliant! Karen Uhlenbeck is an Abel Mathematician Prize recipient, the math equivalent of the Noble. Temple Grandin was the subject of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning semi-biographical film Temple Grandin.

Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck, a University of Texas at Austin emeritus professor renowned for her groundbreaking advancements in geometric analysis and gauge theory, is the first woman to win mathematics’ prestigious Abel Prize.

Modeled on the Nobel Prizes and given out by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Abel Prize is awarded annually to mathematicians whose contributions to the field are of “extraordinary depth and influence.” The prize carries a cash award of six million Norwegian kroner, or roughly $700,000.

One of her collegues said, “The recognition of Uhlenbeck’s achievements should have been far greater, for her work has led to some of the most important advances in mathematics in the last 40 years.” Further noted that the newly minted Abel winner has helped theoretical physicists better model concepts from particle physics string theory and general relativity. Her work with gauge theory, popularly deemed the “mathematical language” of the field, “underpin[s] most subsequent work in this area.”

Karen’s wasn’t as easy path. As one of the few women in her program, Uhlenbeck experienced considerable pushback from male peers and professors. She went onto shatter many glass ceilings, doing what challenged her.


Now, Mary Temple Grandin is a special kind of woman. As a child, Temple Grandin, PhD, like many children with autism, couldn’t speak and raged for no identifiable reason. Yet she grew up to earn a PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois; pioneer humane ways of treating cattle using knowledge gleaned from her disorder; and write on the sensory and cognitive experience of being autistic.

HBO made an Emmy Award winning movie about her life and she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association revised the diagnostic criteria for autism. This greatly broadened the spectrum. It now ranges from brilliant scientists, artists, and musicians to an individual who cannot dress himself or herself. 

And then there’s her work with animals. Grandin has authored over 60 peer reviewed scientific papers on animal behavior, and is a prominent proponent for the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter. In the 2010 Time 100, an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, she was named in the “Heroes” category.[2] She was the subject of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning semi-biographical film Temple Grandin.

She’s become a modern day folk hero who is still sought out today to lecture, not only for her many accomplishments but also as an advocate of equal rights. Because of her, autism is now not so scary and today children all over the world benefit from her insights.

Both of these women rose to the top of their fields of interest. Both overcame obstacles placed before them. And both are brilliant.
Hooray for determination!

Women Extraordinaires, Temple Grandin and Karen Uhlenbeck
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