Simon Levin and Michael Artin Receive the National Medal of Science
By Lina Sorg
SIAM Fellows Simon Levin and Michael Artin were among nine distinguished scientists and researchers awarded the 2015 National Medal of Science, the highest award for scientific achievement in the United States. Prize recipients will be honored at a White House ceremony this month, Levin for his advancements in ecological complexity and Artin for his research in algebraic geometry.
Simon Levin is currently Princeton University’s George M. Moffett Professor of Biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, as well as director of Princeton’s Center for BioComplexity. He is recognized as a leading scholar of systems analysis.
Levin earned his B.A. in mathematics from Johns Hopkins University in 1961 and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1964. After joining Princeton’s faculty in 1992, he has continued as an adjunct professor at Cornell and a distinguished visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Simon Levin, professor in the Department
of Ecology at Princeton University.
Levin received the National Medal of Science for his research in ecological complexity, which explores how smallscale evolutionary and behavioral elements (at the level of individual organisms) maintain macroscopic patterns in ecosystems and the biosphere. Levin uses mathematical models, empirical studies, and observational data to examine biological diversity in natural systems, the growth of diversification, and collective behavior. Throughout his career, Levin’s use of theory in ecological complexity helped transform ecology into a more conceptual science.
Levin also studies infectious disease dynamics, antibiotic resistance, financial and economic systems, sustainable development, and the management of shared resources and public goods. He has examined similarities between ecological and economical/finance systems, including factors that make them prone to collapse; these concepts are outlined in his book, Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons. Yet another of his interests is sustainable development and the link between socioeconomic and environmental systems.
Levin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has served as chair and vice chair of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and is former president of the Ecological Society of America and the Society for Mathematical Biology. Currently Levin is a member of the advisory board for the SIAM Activity Group on Mathematics of Planet Earth (SIAG/MPE).
Over the years Levin received multiple awards acknowledging his research. Notable accolades include the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences in 2005; the American Institute of Biological Sciences’ Distinguished Scientist Award in 2007; the Ecological Society of America’s Eminent Ecologist Award in 2010; and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2014.
Levin is grateful to accept the National Medal of Science. “It was of course exceptionally gratifying,” he said, “both for me personally and as recognition of the importance of the issues that epitomized my career choices: developing a strong mathematical foundation for dealing with biological problems, and especially the ecological dimensions of sustainability. Nothing surpasses recognition in one’s own country, and by one’s own country.”
Michael Artin, emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Michael Artin is also greatly honored to receive the Medal. Artin is an emeritus professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is most wellknown for his work in the fields of algebraic geometry and noncommutative algebra.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, to mathematician Emil Artin, Artin came to the United States as a child and earned an A.B. from Princeton University in 1955. He received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1960. Artin joined the faculty of MIT’s Department of Mathematics in 1963 and became a full professor in 1966. He has previously served as Norbert Wiener Professor and chaired both the Pure Mathematics Committee and the Undergraduate Committee at MIT.
Algebraic geometry is Artin’s primary area of concentration. He has helped introduce and advance modern tools and theories in the field, such as algebraic spaces and stacks. Artin’s work with surface singularities developed familiar concepts such as the fundamental cycle and rational singularity. He also furthered the theory of étale cohomology, and applied concepts of algebraic geometry to the study of diffeomorphisms of compact manifolds.
Artin’s approximation theorem has advanced the understanding of moduli problems and deformation theory. He has also made noteworthy additions to classical algebraic geometry, including significant input on the proof of the ShafarevichTate conjecture for an elliptic K3 surface. Moreover, Artin’s influence in the field of noncommunicative algebra, particularly his introduction of algebrogeometrical methods, has been substantial. He has written several books, the most renowned of which is 1991’s Algebra.
Artin has received several honors for his mathematical contributions. In addition to being a SIAM Fellow, he is a fellow of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the American Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Artin received the AMS’s annual Leroy P. Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2002; the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal in 2005; and the Wolf Prize in Mathematics in 2013. He is a past president of the AMS, and holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Hamburg and the University of Antwerp.
The NSF administers the National Medal of Science, which was created by Congress in 1959, and is awarded annually to those demonstrating both leadership and exceptional contributions to science and engineering. The Medal recognizes outstanding work in fields such as chemistry, mathematics, and biological, physical, and behavioral/social sciences. SIAM congratulates Levin and Artin for this prestigious honor.
To read more details and for information on other prize recipients, please visit the National Medal website.

Lina Sorg is the associate editor of SIAM News. 