Computer Algebra Pioneer Wins Nobel Prize
October 15, 1999Dr. Martinus J.G. Veltman, professor emeritus of
physics at the University of Michigan and former professor at the University
of Utrecht, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday of this week.
Dr. Veltman shares the award with Dr. Gerardus 't Hooft, his former student
and colleague, now a professor of physics at the University of Utrecht in the
Netherlands. Veltman and 't Hooft won the award for establishing
mathematical foundations for gauge theories used in elementary particle
physics.
In the early 1960s, Veltman developed the first generalpurpose
computer program that could perform complex algebraic calculations. This
computer algebra program, called SCHOONSCHIP, was devised by Veltman
primarily to assist in his work on the renormalizability of gauge theories, a
mathematical technique that has been part of the ongoing search in quantum
physics for a unifying relationship between electromagnetism, gravity, and
strong and weak nuclear forces.
In 1979, when Stephen Wolfram began designing SMP, the first modern
computer algebra program and predecessor to Mathematica, he visited
with Dr. Veltman to learn more about Veltman's experience in creating
SCHOONSCHIP. According to Dr. Veltman,
"Later, on the basis of this program [SCHOONSCHIP], the
commercially successful software program Mathematica was
developed by Wolfram. While most theoreticians were getting lost in all
kinds of formulas, I could just get things calculated. That gave me an enormous
advantage."
Mathematica, the most complete technical computing system, is
the program of choice on the frontiers of scientific research.
Mathematica is used in nearly every major research laboratory,
including CERN, SLAC, and Fermilab, where Veltman's and 't Hooft's theories
have been verified. Mathematica has also been used by many Nobel
Prize winners since its creation, including Willis Lamb (physics, 1955), Don
Glaser (physics, 1960), and John F. Nash (economic sciences, 1994). However,
Veltman's and 't Hooft's Nobel Prize is the first to be based, more or less, on
work done using computer algebra. The shared $960,000 prize will be
presented on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, after
whom the award is named.

