University of Pittsburgh
September 13, 2009

Pitt in Brief: News, Awards, and Developments From the University of Pittsburgh

Pitt mathematics professor honored with prestigious mathematics award
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH- Behind the larger stories about the University of Pittsburgh are other stories of faculty, staff, and student achievement as well as information on Pitt programs reaching new levels of success. The following is this week's compilation of some of those stories.

Thomas Hales Receives Fulkerson Prize for Work With Johannes Kepler's Theories

Since cracking the 400-year-old Kepler conjecture, Pitt mathematics professor Thomas Hales seems to be as well known as the famed German mathematician who formulated the perplexing problem that bears his name. Hales most recently received his field's prestigious Fulkerson Prize, which honors outstanding papers in discrete mathematics and is cosponsored by the Mathematical Programming Society and the American Mathematical Society (AMS). Established in 1979, the prize is awarded every three years and includes a $1,500 award. Three prizes were awarded for 2009.

Hales and collaborator Samuel Ferguson won for the papers "A Proof of the Kepler Conjecture" published in the "Annals of Mathematics" in 2005 and "Sphere Packings, V. Pentahedral Prisms" published in "Discrete and Computational Geometry" in 2006. Both papers presented the startling proof of Johannes Kepler's 1611 posit that spheres can most efficiently be packed in a pyramid shape. Kepler himself could not prove his idea and, over the centuries, several people who attempted to prove it never could. Hales shook the mathematics world when he offered the elusive proof in 1998 and reviewers spent five years vetting his work. The long process spurred Hales to undertake the Flyspeck Project, the development of computer technology that would automatically check the correctness of long, complicated proofs. Flyspeck could take up to 20 years to create.

In 2007, Hales and Ferguson won the AMS' inaugural David P. Robbins Award for the 2005 paper, which the AMS called "a landmark achievement." The $5,000 prize is to be awarded every three years to fresh research in algebra and discrete math.

For more information, contact Pitt News Representative Morgan Kelly at 412-624-4356 (office); 412-897-1400 (cell);