Lars Valerian Ahlfors, Fields Medal, 1936

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Lars Valerian Ahlfors, Fields Medal, 1936

Birthplace: Helsinki, Finland
Death: Died in Pittsfield, Berkshire, Massachusetts, United States
Cause of death: pneumonia
Immediate Family:

Son of Karl Axel * Mauritz Ahlfors and Sievä Matilda Ahlfors
Husband of Erna Martha Liesbeth Ahlfors
Father of <private> Edwards (Ahlfors); <private> Gruen (Ahlfors) and <private> Mouris (Ahlfors)
Half brother of Unga Appelqvist

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Immediate Family

About Lars Valerian Ahlfors, Fields Medal, 1936

Lars Valerian Ahlfors (18 April 1907 – 11 October 1996) was a Finnish mathematician, remembered for his work in the field of Riemann surfaces and his text on complex analysis.


Ahlfors was born in Helsinki, Finland. His mother, Sievä Helander, died at his birth. His father, Axel Ahlfors, was a professor of engineering at the Helsinki University of Technology. The Ahlfors family was Swedish-speaking, so he first attended a private school where all classes were taught in Swedish. Ahlfors studied at University of Helsinki from 1924, graduating in 1928 having studied under Ernst Lindelöf and Rolf Nevanlinna. He assisted Nevanlinna in 1929 with his work on Denjoy's conjecture on the number of asymptotic values of an entire function. In 1929 Ahlfors published the first proof of this conjecture, now known as the Denjoy–Carleman–Ahlfors theorem. It states that the number of asymptotic values approached by an entire function of order ρ along curves in the complex plane going toward infinity is less than or equal to 2ρ.

He completed his doctorate from the University of Helsinki in 1930.


Ahlfors worked as an associate professor at the University of Helsinki from 1933 to 1936. In 1936 he was one of the first two people to be awarded the Fields Medal. In 1935 Ahlfors visited Harvard University. He returned to Finland in 1938 to take up a professorship at the University of Helsinki. The outbreak of war led to problems although Ahlfors was unfit for military service. He was offered a post at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich in 1944 and finally managed to travel there in March 1945. He did not enjoy his time in Switzerland, so in 1946 he jumped at a chance to leave, returning to work at Harvard where he remained until he retired in 1977; he was William Caspar Graustein Professor of Mathematics from 1964. Ahlfors was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1962 and again in 1966. He was awarded the Wihuri Prize in 1968 and the Wolf Prize in Mathematics in 1981.

His book Complex Analysis (1953) is the classic text on the subject and is almost certainly referenced in any more recent text which makes heavy use of complex analysis. Ahlfors wrote several other significant books, including Riemann surfaces (1960) and Conformal invariants (1973). He made decisive contributions to meromorphic curves, value distribution theory, Riemann surfaces, conformal geometry, quasiconformal mappings and other areas during his career.

Personal life

In 1933, he married Erna Lehnert, an Austrian who with her parents had first settled in Sweden and then in Finland. The couple had three daughters.

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Lars Valerian Ahlfors, Fields Medal, 1936's Timeline

April 18, 1907
Helsinki, Finland
October 11, 1996
Age 89
Pittsfield, Berkshire, Massachusetts, United States