Although some consider the Abel Prize to be the ‘Nobel of mathematics’, its winners are hardly ever household names. But this year’s prize, announced on 25 March, includes a notable exception: John Nash, the subject of the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe — and a previous winner of a Nobel prize for economics.

Nash, who spent most of his career at Princeton University in New Jersey, shares the prize with Canadian-born mathematician Louis Nirenberg of New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences for work on partial differential equations. Nash’s contributions to this field are widely considered more profound than the research in game theory that earned him a Nobel.

Partial differential equations (those that involve multiple, independent derivatives) are fundamental to pure maths and crop up throughout science, describing phenomena from the diffusion of heat to the motion of quantum particles. “Partial differential equations lie at the foundation of many areas, both within and beyond mathematics, ranging from geometry to physics,” says mathematician Robert Kohn of the Courant Institute. “Louis Nirenberg and John Nash have had huge influence on this field, not only by solving important problems, but more importantly by introducing fundamentally new methods and ideas.” Via ‘Beautiful mind’ John Nash adds Abel Prize to his Nobel