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How Newton got real

By Philip Ball  

The Abel Prize, awarded annually by the Norwegian Academy of Science and letters for achievements in mathematics, is widely regarded as the “maths Nobel”. Only the Field Medal, which is awarded only every four years and is restricted to mathematicians under the age of 40, can claim a comparable status. But probably no Nobel presents reporters with a greater challenge than the Abel for explaining to the lay person what the prize is being given for. Some of the recent citations have a terseness that warns you to ask no further if you don’t want to hear something incomprehensible: “for…

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