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PULLOUT: March at PENN 1998 Calendar

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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.

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, February 24, 1998, Volume 44, Number 23