This weekend the New York Times told the story of the Fields Medal, one of the highest prizes in mathematics that is somewhat shrouded in myth:

On Wednesday in Seoul, the International Congress of Mathematicians will announce the winners of the Fields Medal. First awarded in Oslo in 1936, the medal is given every four years to two to four mathematicians. It is considered the “Nobel Prize” of mathematics (even the organizers of the congress call it that), filling a gap left by Alfred Nobel, who did not include mathematics among the prizes endowed on his death in 1896.

Many mathematicians will tell you that Nobel omitted mathematics from his prizes to spite the Swedish mathematician Gosta Mittag-Leffler, a rival, and that the Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields created the award that bears his name to correct the omission. But this is a myth that needs debunking… Continue reading.

While you’re waiting for the results from Seoul, why not browse courses from the Mathematics Department on OCW?

UPDATE: Congratulations to Maryam Mirzakhani, Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, and Martin Hairer! Read more about the winners.