David Bressoud, Macalester College
Abstract: What is the role of proof in mathematics? Most of the time, the search for proof is less about establishing truth than it is about exploring unknown territory. In finding a route from what is known to the result one believes is out there, the mathematician often encounters unexpected insights into seemingly unrelated problems. I will illustrate this point with an example of recent research into a generalization of the permutation matrix known as the "alternating sign matrix." This is a story that began with Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), matured at the Institute for Defense Analysis, drew in researchers from combinatorics, analysis, and algebra, and ultimately was solved with insights from statistical mechanics. This talk is intended for a general audience and should be accessible to anyone interested in a window into the true nature of research in mathematics.
Biography: David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College. He served in the Peace Corps, teaching math and science at the Clare Hall School in Antigua, West Indies before studying with Emil Grosswald at Temple University and then teaching at Penn State for 17 years, eight of them as full professor. He chaired the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Macalester from 1995 until 2001. He has held visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota, Université Louis Pasteur (Strasbourg, France), and the State College Area High School.