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Mathematicians to gather at William & Mary for Whitney Problem workshop

  • Mathematical discussion
    Mathematical discussion  Charles Fefferman (left) of Princeton discusses Whitney Problems with William & Mary’s Nahum Zobin during a previous Whitney workshop held at William & Mary. The two are organizers of the annual mathematical work session, often held here in Williamsburg.  Photo by Joseph McClain
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Mathematicians from around the world will gather at William & Mary Aug. 14-18 to confront implications of what has been known as the Whitney Problems, a set of analysis ideas that resisted attempts at resolution for nearly a century.

Whitney mathematicians meet annually, and William & Mary hosted the gathering in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2014. The Whitney Problem Workshops are organized each year by Charles Fefferman, professor in Princeton University’s math department, and Nahum Zobin, professor of mathematics at William & Mary.

“The Whitney Problems stem from four 1934 groundbreaking papers by one of the best American mathematicians of the 20th century, Hassler Whitney, who at that time was a very young man,” Zobin explained. “These papers introduced new, very powerful tools into analysis, and these tools were in constant use and development since then.”

Mathematicians attacked the Whitney Problems with little or no success for years, but advancements were made in the 1950s and 1980s. Zobin himself presented a solution to one of the problems in the 1990s, and he added, “But the real breakthrough came in 2002 when Fefferman was able to solve the remaining Whitney Problems, in a series of extremely difficult and ingenious papers -- and very long ones!.”

Zobin explained that solutions to the original set of Whitney Problems opened doors to aspects of mathematics that could have important implications in physics and engineering as well as in mathematical analysis.

Fefferman is the recipient of many important mathematics honors including the Fields Medal and, most recently, the Wolf Prize in Mathematics, one of the world’s top three prizes for achievement in mathematics. He will be among the participants in the 2017 William & Mary workshop.

The workshop is supported by the U.S. Air Force Office for Scientific Research and by William & Mary’s Vice Provost for Research. Sessions are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Jones 301.