President's Report Masthead
December 31, 2012
Greek conference honors mathematician

Thomas Farrell, distinguished professor of mathematical sciences, was recently feted with a conference on mathematics for his 70th birthday.

Greek conference honors mathematician

For Thomas Farrell’s birthday, his friends and colleagues organized a birthday bash on the Greek island of Samos, where Pythagoras was born. Dozens of mathematicians from all around the world flocked to the conference to discuss geometry and topology and to relax on the beach. “It’s really just an excuse to throw a party,” jokes Farrell, a Binghamton University mathematician who celebrated his 70th birthday this year.

Birthday conferences are a longstanding tradition in mathematics, but they’re not thrown for everybody, says Jim Davis, a mathematician from Indiana University. Farrell received this special honor, Davis says, because his work revolutionized the field of topology — an area of mathematics that explores the deformation of theoretical geometric objects.

Farrell is famous for formulating a theory with Stony Brook University mathematician Lowell Jones that came to be known as the Farrell-Jones Conjecture. The research began while Farrell studied at Yale in the 1960s. “My advisor suggested a couple of problems to work on, but then a few months later, he told me they’d been solved already by this person named Borel,” Farrell explains. “After this happened a few times, my advisor told me to go down to Princeton and ask Borel to suggest a problem for me to solve.” The problem he was assigned became known as the Borel Conjecture. “It’s what I’ve been working on for most of my life,” Farrell says.

Read more about the Farrell-Jones Conjecture at