Pioneering professors earn $100,000 each through NU’s Nemmers Prizes

Northwestern honored two professors March 15 with its biennial $100,000 Nemmers Prizes, the largest national awards for excellence in economics and mathematics.

Daniel L. McFadden, an economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, received the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics for his work on consumer choice.

Edward Witten, a physics professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., was awarded the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics for his theory about the basic structure of life.

“The selection of these pre-eminent scholars is testimony to the growing recognition that the Nemmers Prizes are among the leading awards in economics and mathematics,” Provost Lawrence Dumas said in a press release. “We are proud to once again recognize two exceptional scholars in these fields.”

The Nemmers Prizes, which began in 1994, are awarded every other year to scholars in economics and mathematics. Donations from the late Erwin P. Nemmers, a former Kellogg faculty member from 1957 to 1986, and his brother, Frederic E. Nemmers, fund the prizes.

McFadden and Witten will spend a quarter at NU next school year, holding lectures and interacting with professors and students.

McFadden founded modern econometric research on the analysis of the decisions of consumers, firms and governments. His 1973 article on consumer choice behavior is considered a milestone in the development of microeconometrics.

He is also respected for his research on travel-demand forecasting, the economics of aging and the use of energy-consuming appliances.

“He’s a great economatrician,” NU economics Prof. Mark Witte said. “He has done a lot of stuff with the subtle issue of data and has found clever ways of getting around that.”

McFadden has taught at the University of Pittsburgh and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in addition to U.C.-Berkeley, where he is the director of the Econometrics Laboratory. He also served as president of the Econometric Society in 1985.

Witten is recognized as the premier theoretical physicist after almost single-handedly creating a new branch of mathematical physics. His contributions to particle physics and string theory attempt to prove that the building blocks of nature are small loops that resemble string, instead of tiny particles.

Witten is also the leading theorist on the most difficult problem of theoretical physics, which originates from the conflicting ideas of quantum mechanics and the General Theory of Relativity.

In 1990 Witten received the prestigious Fields Medal, mathematics’ equivalent to the Nobel Prize, earning the highest distinction awarded to a mathematician under 40 years old. In 1996 Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential people in America.

Witten taught physics at Princeton University before becoming a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study.