Peers hail solving of problem
MU math professor finds proof is positive
By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS
The Kansas City Star
As a boy, Steven Hofmann dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. But odds were against that happening, and arithmetic came easier, so he stuck with math.
Unlike athletes, mathematicians rarely garner national or international praise.
But Hofmann is an exception.
The 47-year-old math professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia is in line for applause from around the world for solving a math problem that had baffled his peers for more than 40 years.
Solving the problem got Hofmann an invitation to speak next spring in Madrid, Spain, at the 2006 International Congress of Mathematicians, which is held every four years.
For a mathematician, the event is “a really big deal,” Hofmann said.
“It is like a baseball player being picked for the all-star team.”
Theodore Slaman, chairman of the Department of Mathematics at the University of California-Berkeley, says an opportunity to speak at the international congress is a career achievement. And solving a problem as old as the one Hofmann solved “is like finding the Holy Grail,” Slaman said.