knot theory
The Abel Prize 2011 goes to John Willard Milnor of Stony Brook University, New York for "pioneering discoveries in topology, geometry and algebra". 
When it comes to describing natural phenomena, mathematics is amazingly — even unreasonably — effective. In this article Mario Livio looks at an example of strings and knots, taking us from the mysteries of physical matter to the most esoteric outpost of pure mathematics, and back again.

One of science's biggest prizes awarded for research into strings and knots
