Steele Prize: Dr. Wilf
Dr. Herbert Wilf, the Thomas A. Scott Professor of Mathematics, was awarded a Leroy P. Steele prize for Seminal Contribution to Research. He shared the award with Doron Zeilberger of Temple University for their joint work on "Rational functions certify combinatorial ideneties," a paper which appeared in the Journal of the AMS in 1990.
The work for which the prize was awarded involves a new method of finding computer-assisted proofs of formulas that arise in many areas of mathematics and physics. The Wilf-Zeilberger method has the computer work to provide a "validity certificate" for A =B, where B is a very complicated expression involving sums and products of many terms, and A is a relatively simple expression. An unprecedented aspect of this proof technique involves how the computer is used; up to now, mathematicians have been reluctant to accept computer-assisted results as certain, since there is usually no way to verify that the computer program is error-free and that the computer itself has functioned precisely as programmed.
"I fell in love with these procedures as soon as I learned them,
because they worked for me immediately... The success rate is astonishing,"
computer scientist Donal Knuth said of the results.