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‘Spheres: One Hundred Years of Topology’

Award-winning mathematician John Milnor to speak at Brookhaven Lab, November 8

By Nick Statt

John Milnor

Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. Professor John Milnor, distinguished professor and co-director of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Stony Brook University.

UPTON, NY — John Milnor, a Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University and co-director of its Institute for Mathematical Sciences, will give a BSA Distinguished Lecture titled “Spheres: One Hundred Years of Topology” at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory on Thursday, November 8, at 4 p.m. in Berkner Hall.

During his lecture, Milnor will discuss how mathematicians in the 20th century have wrestled with the complexities of topology — the mathematical study of space, dimensions, and transformations — with a focus on the three-dimensional sphere and its role as a source of important mathematical theorems.

Milnor will provide a tour through the last century’s topological study of three-dimensional spheres, beginning with mathematician and physicist Henri Poincaré’s criterion proposed in 1904 for determining whether an object is a three-dimensional sphere and ending with theorist Grigori Perelman’s successful proof proposed nearly 100 years later. Milnor will highlight other invaluable contributions along the way, and the failures that prevented mathematicians from solving one of the most pivotal problems in topology — one for which Perelman would be offered a $1 million prize that he refused to accept. 

Milnor also makes mention of The Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri in 1320. Mathematicians have long celebrated Dante’s descriptions of the universe as the first accurate descriptions of a three-dimensional sphere — the foundation for topological studies of spherical surfaces and the historical backdrop to Milnor’s lecture on 20th century topology. 

About the Speaker

Milnor is a mathematician with expertise in differential topology and in other geometry-related fields such as K-theory and dynamical systems. With more than 60 years of study, Milnor has earned praise from mathematical committees around the world, and also authored several highly influential books. Numerous mathematical concepts are named after him, including Milnor exotic spheres and Milnor fibration. 

Milnor received his bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1951. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1954, he became a faculty member, and eventually a professor. Later, after stays at UCLA and MIT, he joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 1989, he became the first Director of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Milnor’s widespread recognition for his contributions to mathematics includes the Fields Medal in 1962, the 1967 National Medal of Science, and three separate awards from the American Mathematical Society, including the Society’s 2011 Leroy P. Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement. In 2011, Milnor also received the prestigious Abel Prize “for pioneering discoveries in topology, geometry and algebra,” an award often described as the “mathematician’s Nobel prize.” 

About the BSA Distinguished Lectures

BSA Distinguished Lectures are sponsored by Brookhaven Science Associates, the company that manages Brookhaven Lab, to present topics of general interest to the Laboratory community and the public. These lectures are free, and no preregistration is required. All visitors to the Laboratory 16 and older must bring a photo ID.

For more information, call 631-344-2345. The Laboratory is located on William Floyd Parkway, one-and-a-half miles north of Exit 68 of the Long Island Expressway.

2012-1464  |  Media & Communications Office

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