Sunday, January 09, 2011

Awards from the joint math meetings, and other notes..

It's the new year !! apparently, being on twitter makes blogging frequency drop, because the throwaway information one might blog about just gets tweeted. This is not a bad thing in general.

I've been away in India for much of the winter break, after dealing with the NSF proposal deadlines. On a side note, for anyone complaining about the SODA deadline close to the July 4 weekend, the NSF Dec 17 deadline is MUCH worse. I've submitted proposals now from a cruise ship in Hawaii and at 2:30 in the morning from my parent's place in Bangalore. argghhh

The Joint Math meetings are wrapping up in New Orleans, and award news is beginning to trickle out. Muthu mentions the prizes for Assaf Naor and Ingrid Daubechies. Much to my surprise and great pleasure, the wonderful and entertaining overhang papers by Paterson, Peres, Thorup, Winkler, and Zwick were given the David Robbins Prize for
 a paper with the following characteristics: it shall report on novel research in algebra, combinatorics or discrete mathematics and shall have a signifi cant experimental component; and it shall be on a topic which is broadly accessible and shall provide a simple statement of the problem and clear exposition of the work
The citation for their work is:
The Mathematical Association of America proudly awards the 2011 David P. Robbins Prize to Mike Paterson, Yuval Peres, Mikkel Thorup, Peter Winkler, and Uri Zwick for their innovative work on two papers: “Overhang,” American Mathematical Monthly 116, January 2009;
“Maximum Overhang,” American Mathematical Monthly 116, December 2009.
The two papers together solve, to within a constant factor, the classic problem of stacking blocks on a table to achieve the maximum possible overhang, i.e., reaching out the furthest horizontal distance from the edge of the table. The January paper was written by Paterson and Zwick, and the December paper was written by all five people named above. The January paper proves the surprising result that n blocks can be (cunningly) stacked using suitable counterbalancing to achieve an overhang proportional to $n^{1/3}$. (Many people have assumed that the overhang of about log n, given by the standard calculus exercise, is optimal.)
The December paper gave a complementary argument showing that an overhang proportional to n(1/3) is, in fact, the largest possible for any balanced stack.
The papers describe an impressive result in discrete mathematics; the problem is easily understood and the arguments, despite their depth, are easily accessible to any motivated undergraduate.
In other news, cstheory is humming along after the winter break. We're closing on in 3000 users. I'm always hoping for more on-target questions, especially in areas like approximations, geometry and AGT: complexity theory seems over-represented (which isn't a problem, but diversity is great!). We're hoping to develop some formal links with SIGACT fairly soon: stay tuned.
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