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Mathematical Association of America Awards Authors the Chauvenet and David P. Robbins Prize at 2020 Joint Mathematics Meeting

WASHINGTON, DC (Jan. 16, 2020) Awards for the year’s best expository article on a mathematical topic and writing on mathematics will be given to co-authors, Vladimir Pozdnyakov and J. Michael Steele as well as Dr. Aubrey de Grey by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). The award winners will receive their prizes on January 16, at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Denver, the world’s largest gathering of mathematicians.

Pozdnyakov and Steele will receive the MAA Chauvenet Prize, awarded to the author of an outstanding expository article on a mathematical topic, for “Buses, Bullies, and Bijections,” in the Mathematics Magazine. Winners of the Chauvenet Prize are among the most distinguished of mathematical expositors.

Dr. de Grey will receive the David P. Robbins Prize for his paper “The Chromatic Number of the Plane is at least 5,” which appeared in Geombinatorics in July 2018. This award is given out every third year at the Joint Mathematical Meeting, recognizing recipients for their reporting on novel research in algebra, combinatorics, or discrete mathematics.

Chauvenet Prize

“Buses, Bullies, and Bijections,” shows the remarkable utility of bijections by considering seating assignments on a bus. Everyone has a designated seat, but all except the last passenger take seats at random. Then the final passenger— a bit of a bully— boards, not only wanting his own seat but demanding that each subsequently displaced person finds his correct seat as well. The authors then use bijections to derive even more surprising and beautiful results including the mean and variance of the number of cycles in a random permutation.

“We are beyond delighted to join the very distinguished list of winners of the Chauvenet Prize,” said Pozdnyakov and Steele. “From an early age, we have both been wide-ranging readers of mathematical expositions. Naturally, those papers that have been acknowledged with the Chauvenet Prize have often zoomed to the top of our reading list, even when—perhaps especially when—they offer the chance to learn some mathematics outside of our work-a-day world.”

“The MAA is proud to honor exceptional expository writing in the field of mathematics. Pozdnyakov and Steele’s article is an outstanding example of the writing we routinely feature in our journals,” said Michael Pearson, executive director of the MAA.

David P. Robbins Prize

“The Chromatic Number of the Plane is at least 5,” discusses the Hadwiger–Nelson problem which asks for the minimum number of colors required to color the points of the plane such that no two points at distance one from each other have the same color. Dr. de Grey discovered a family of finite unit-distance graphs in the plane that are not 4-colorable, thereby improving the lower bound of the Hadwiger-Nelson problem.

“I am immensely honored to be awarded the MAA’s Robbins’ prize,” said Dr. de Grey. “In my youth, I had the great privilege to have friends at Cambridge who are among the most talented combinatorics of their generation and who are also wonderful people. The result is that for most of my life I have been hooked on combinatorics, and especially graph theory. This field, while never having been my source of income, has given me perpetual joy, and I want to express my gratitude to those old friends who provided that gift. The Hadwiger-Nelson problem has the rare feature of being both comprehensible and seductive not only to the mathematics undergraduates whom this prize seeks to inspire but even to those with much more elementary mathematical experience. I, therefore, hope that this contribution by a recreational mathematician will serve to encourage a new generation to explore this infinitely rich abstract universe.”

“Aubrey de Grey’s contribution exemplifies novel research that has advanced progress on the long-standing Hadwiger-Nelson problem. We are honored to present de Grey with the Robbins Prize,” said Michael Pearson, executive director of the MAA.