Russian-Israeli Mathematician Solves Decades-Old Math Problem

June 01, 2008 07:15 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Avraham Trakhtman solved “the road coloring problem.” A former security guard, he is the latest mathematician to overcome hardship through intellectual brilliance.

30-Second Summary

Once employed as a mathematician in his hometown of Yekaterinburg, Russia, Trakhtman immigrated to Israel at the age of 48. Having a hard time finding work in his original field, he took up employment as a night watchman.

At the ripe age of 63, Trakhtman solved the “road coloring problem.” This mathematical stumper is based on the implausible assertion that given a finite number of roads, a “universal map” can be drawn so that people starting from any point can arrive at the same destination simultaneously.

The problem was first posed in 1970. Trakhtman solved it in a year.

“In math circles we talk about beautiful results––this is beautiful and it is unexpected,” Stuart Margolis, a mathematician who recruited Trakhtman to Bar Ilan University, told The Guardian.

Trakhtman is not the first mathematical genius to overcome adversity. Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan came from a poor Indian village to become a mathematics scholar at the University of Cambridge, writing theorems in beat-up notebooks.

Sophie Germain fought the cultural mores of 18th-century France to gain the respect of her contemporary Carl Gauss, considered one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.

Headline Link: ‘Security Guard Solves 38-Year-Old Maths Poser’

Historical Context: Genius over adversity

Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan (1887–1920)
Sophie Germain (1776–1831)

Reference: The road coloring problem and its solution


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