Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Topologist Ian Agol, Veblen Prize recipient, wins Breakthrough Prize

A winner of the 2013 Oswald Veblen Prize in Geometry, Ian Agol, has also just won a Breakthrough Prize of $3 million, for what the prize foundation terms "spectacular contributions to low-dimensional topology and geometric group theory". In a NY Times article, Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prizes, described them this way: “The Breakthrough Prize honors achievements in science and math so we can encourage more pioneering research and celebrate scientists as the heroes they truly are.”

Though Agol is based at the University of California, Berkeley, he has a one year position at the Institute for Advanced Study, which includes leading a workshop on 3-dimensional manifolds the week of Dec. 7.

It's interesting to trace the lineage of mathematicians via the Mathematics Genealogy Project. Working back from Ian Agol, for instance, the string of advisors are Michael Hartley Freedman, William Browder, John Coleman Moore, George William Whitehead, Jr., Norman Earl Steenrod, and then Solomon Lefschetz, who succeeded Oswald Veblen as Fine Professor in Princeton's Department of Mathematics after Veblen moved to the IAS in 1933. Another bio of Lefschetz, who was trained in Europe, can be found here.

Agol's thoughts upon receiving the Veblen Prize can be found on pp. 14-16 at this link.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Celebrating the Lives of John and Alicia Nash

There was an extraordinary day of celebrating the life and work of mathematician John Nash and his wife Alicia at Princeton University on Saturday, October 24.

Coming five months after he and his wife were killed in a car accident while returning to Princeton from Newark Airport, the series of talks about his work culminated in a moving talk by Silvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind. It's a powerful story of Nash's descent into schizophrenia. That he had Alicia to return to was mentioned as a powerful force in what for victims of the disease was a rare recovery, allowing them to share many good years before they were taken from us.

The talks were followed by a remembrance service at Princeton University Chapel. There's a writeup with photos on the Princeton University website. Though I didn't know John Nash, I found the service very moving--the beauty of the music, the testimonials, the splendor of the chapel. Jim Manganaro, who was a good friend of the Nashes and has expressed ongoing interest and support for the Veblen House project over the years, was one of the speakers. Noting John Nash's precise use of the english language, he told the story of Alicia saying at the dinner table that an offering of pie was too big for her, since she was on a diet. John pointed out that the piece of pie was not too big for Alicia, but too big for a diet.

A Veblen connection--a chapter of A Beautiful Mind begins with a description of "May" Veblen, Oswald's wife--is written about in a previous post.

Update, Nov. 10: I heard from Joseph Kohn, who MC'd Silvia Nasar's presentation, that the various talks will be making it on to the internet at some point.