John R. Stallings

Last updated
John R. Stallings
2006 photo of Stallings
Born(1935-07-22)July 22, 1935
DiedNovember 24, 2008(2008-11-24) (aged 73)
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Arkansas
Princeton University
Known forproof of Poincaré Conjecture in dimensions greater than six; Stallings theorem about ends of groups; Stallings graphs and automata
Awards Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Algebra (1971)
Scientific career
Fields Mathematics
Institutions University of California at Berkeley
Doctoral advisor Ralph Fox
Doctoral students Marc Culler
Stephen M. Gersten
J. Hyam Rubinstein

John Robert Stallings Jr. (July 22, 1935 – November 24, 2008) was a mathematician known for his seminal contributions to geometric group theory and 3-manifold topology. Stallings was a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley [1] where he had been a faculty member since 1967. [1] He published over 50 papers, predominantly in the areas of geometric group theory and the topology of 3-manifolds. Stallings' most important contributions include a proof, in a 1960 paper, of the Poincaré Conjecture in dimensions greater than six and a proof, in a 1971 paper, of the Stallings theorem about ends of groups.


Biographical data

John Stallings was born on July 22, 1935, in Morrilton, Arkansas. [1]

Stallings received his B.Sc. from University of Arkansas in 1956 (where he was one of the first two graduates in the university's Honors program) [2] and he received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton University in 1959 under the direction of Ralph Fox. [1]

After completing his PhD, Stallings held a number of postdoctoral and faculty positions, including being an NSF postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford as well as an instructorship and a faculty appointment at Princeton. Stallings joined the University of California at Berkeley as a faculty member in 1967 where he remained until his retirement in 1994. [1] Even after his retirement, Stallings continued supervising UC Berkeley graduate students until 2005. [3] Stallings was an Alfred P. Sloan Research fellow from 1962 to 1965 and a Miller Institute fellow from 1972 to 1973. [1] Over the course of his career, Stallings had 22 doctoral students including Marc Culler, Stephen M. Gersten, and J. Hyam Rubinstein and 100 doctoral descendants. He published over 50 papers, predominantly in the areas of geometric group theory and the topology of 3-manifolds.

Stallings delivered an invited address as the International Congress of Mathematicians in Nice in 1970 [4] and a James K. Whittemore Lecture at Yale University in 1969. [5]

Stallings received the Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Algebra from the American Mathematical Society in 1970. [6]

The conference "Geometric and Topological Aspects of Group Theory", held at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley in May 2000, was dedicated to the 65th birthday of Stallings. [7] In 2002 a special issue of the journal Geometriae Dedicata was dedicated to Stallings on the occasion of his 65th birthday. [8] Stallings died from prostate cancer on November 24, 2008. [3] [9]

Mathematical contributions

Most of Stallings' mathematical contributions are in the areas of geometric group theory and low-dimensional topology (particularly the topology of 3-manifolds) and on the interplay between these two areas.

An early significant result of Stallings is his 1960 proof [10] of the Poincaré conjecture in dimensions greater than six. (Stallings' proof was obtained independently from and shortly after the different proof of Stephen Smale who established the same result in dimensions bigger than four [11] ).

Using "engulfing" methods similar to those in his proof of the Poincaré conjecture for n > 6, Stallings proved that ordinary Euclidean n-dimensional space has a unique piecewise linear, hence also smooth, structure, if n is not equal to 4. This took on added significance when, as a consequence of work of Michael Freedman and Simon Donaldson in 1982, it was shown that 4-space has exotic smooth structures, in fact uncountably many such.

In a 1963 paper [12] Stallings constructed an example of a finitely presented group with infinitely generated 3-dimensional integral homology group and, moreover, not of the type , that is, not admitting a classifying space with a finite 3-skeleton. This example came to be called the Stallings group and is a key example in the study of homological finiteness properties of groups. Robert Bieri later showed [13] that the Stallings group is exactly the kernel of the homomorphism from the direct product of three copies of the free group to the additive group of integers that sends to the six elements coming from the choice of free bases for the three copies of . Bieri also showed that the Stallings group fits into a sequence of examples of groups of type but not of type . The Stallings group is a key object in the version of discrete Morse theory for cubical complexes developed by Mladen Bestvina and Noel Brady [14] and in the study of subgroups of direct products of limit groups. [15] [16] [17]

Stallings' most famous theorem in group theory is an algebraic characterization of groups with more than one end (that is, with more than one "connected component at infinity"), which is now known as Stallings' theorem about ends of groups. Stallings proved that a finitely generated group G has more than one end if and only if this group admits a nontrivial splitting as an amalgamated free product or as an HNN extension over a finite group (that is, in terms of Bass–Serre theory, if and only if the group admits a nontrivial action on a tree with finite edge stabilizers). More precisely, the theorem states that a finitely generated group G has more than one end if and only if either G admits a splitting as an amalgamated free product , where the group C is finite and , , or G admits a splitting as an HNN extension where are finite subgroups of H.

Stallings proved this result in a series of works, first dealing with the torsion-free case (that is, a group with no nontrivial elements of finite order) [18] and then with the general case. [5] [19] Stalling's theorem yielded a positive solution to the long-standing open problem about characterizing finitely generated groups of cohomological dimension one as exactly the free groups. [20] Stallings' theorem about ends of groups is considered one of the first results in geometric group theory proper since it connects a geometric property of a group (having more than one end) with its algebraic structure (admitting a splitting over a finite subgroup). Stallings' theorem spawned many subsequent alternative proofs by other mathematicians (e.g. [21] [22] ) as well as many applications (e.g. [23] ). The theorem also motivated several generalizations and relative versions of Stallings' result to other contexts, such as the study of the notion of relative ends of a group with respect to a subgroup, [24] [25] [26] including a connection to CAT(0) cubical complexes. [27] A comprehensive survey discussing, in particular, numerous applications and generalizations of Stallings' theorem, is given in a 2003 paper of C. T. C. Wall. [28]

Another influential paper of Stallings is his 1983 article "Topology of finite graphs". [29] Traditionally, the algebraic structure of subgroups of free groups has been studied in combinatorial group theory using combinatorial methods, such as the Schreier rewriting method and Nielsen transformations. [30] Stallings' paper put forward a topological approach based on the methods of covering space theory that also used a simple graph-theoretic framework. The paper introduced the notion of what is now commonly referred to as Stallings subgroup graph for describing subgroups of free groups, and also introduced a foldings technique (used for approximating and algorithmically obtaining the subgroup graphs) and the notion of what is now known as a Stallings folding. Most classical results regarding subgroups of free groups acquired simple and straightforward proofs in this set-up and Stallings' method has become the standard tool in the theory for studying the subgroup structure of free groups, including both the algebraic and algorithmic questions (see [31] ). In particular, Stallings subgroup graphs and Stallings foldings have been the used as a key tools in many attempts to approach the Hanna Neumann conjecture. [32] [33] [34] [35]

Stallings subgroup graphs can also be viewed as finite-state automata [31] and they have also found applications in semigroup theory and in computer science. [36] [37] [38] [39]

Stallings' foldings method has been generalized and applied to other contexts, particularly in Bass–Serre theory for approximating group actions on trees and studying the subgroup structure of the fundamental groups of graphs of groups. The first paper in this direction was written by Stallings himself, [40] with several subsequent generalizations of Stallings' folding methods in the Bass–Serre theory context by other mathematicians. [41] [42] [43] [44]

Stallings' 1991 paper "Non-positively curved triangles of groups" [45] introduced and studied the notion of a triangle of groups. This notion was the starting point for the theory of complexes of groups (a higher-dimensional analog of Bass–Serre theory), developed by André Haefliger [46] and others. [47] [48] Stallings' work pointed out the importance of imposing some sort of "non-positive curvature" conditions on the complexes of groups in order for the theory to work well; such restrictions are not necessary in the one-dimensional case of Bass–Serre theory.

Among Stallings' contributions to 3-manifold topology, the most well-known is the Stallings fibration theorem. [49] The theorem states that if M is a compact irreducible 3-manifold whose fundamental group contains a normal subgroup, such that this subgroup is finitely generated and such that the quotient group by this subgroup is infinite cyclic, then M fibers over a circle. This is an important structural result in the theory of Haken manifolds that engendered many alternative proofs, generalizations and applications (e.g. [50] [51] [52] [53] ), including a higher-dimensional analog. [54]

A 1965 paper of Stallings "How not to prove the Poincaré conjecture" [55] gave a group-theoretic reformulation of the famous Poincaré conjecture. The paper began with a humorous admission: "I have committed the sin of falsely proving Poincaré's Conjecture. But that was in another country; and besides, until now, no one has known about it." [1] [55] Despite its ironic title, Stallings' paper informed much of the subsequent research on exploring the algebraic aspects of the Poincaré conjecture (see, for example, [56] [57] [58] [59] ).

Selected works


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Mathematician John Stallings died last year at 73. UC Berkeley press release, January 12, 2009. Accessed January 26, 2009
  2. All things academic. Volume 3, Issue 4; November 2002.
  3. 1 2 Chang, Kenneth (January 18, 2009), "John R. Stallings Jr., 73, California Mathematician, Is Dead", The New York Times . Accessed January 26, 2009.
  4. John R. Stallings. Group theory and 3-manifolds. Actes du Congrès International des Mathématiciens (Nice, 1970), Tome 2, pp. 165167. Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1971.
  5. 1 2 John Stallings. Group theory and three-dimensional manifolds. A James K. Whittemore Lecture in Mathematics given at Yale University, 1969. Yale Mathematical Monographs, 4. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.London, 1971.
  6. Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Algebra. American Mathematical Society.
  7. Geometric and Topological Aspects of Group Theory, conference announcement Archived 2008-09-06 at the Wayback Machine ,
  8. Geometriae Dedicata [ dead link ], vol. 92 (2002). Special issue dedicated to John Stallings on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Edited by R. Z. Zimmer.
  9. Professor Emeritus John Stallings of the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department has died. Archived 2008-12-28 at the Wayback Machine Announcement at the website of the Department of Mathematics of the University of California at Berkeley. Accessed December 4, 2008
  10. John Stallings. Polyhedral homotopy spheres. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, vol. 66 (1960), pp. 485488.
  11. Stephen Smale. Generalized Poincaré's conjecture in dimensions greater than four. Annals of Mathematics (2nd Ser.), vol. 74 (1961), no. 2, pp. 391406
  12. Stallings, John (1963). "A finitely presented group whose 3-dimensional integral homology is not finitely generated". American Journal of Mathematics . 85 (4): 541–543. doi:10.2307/2373106. JSTOR   2373106.
  13. Robert Bieri. "Homological dimension of discrete groups." Queen Mary College Mathematical Notes. Queen Mary College, Department of Pure Mathematics, London, 1976.
  14. Bestvina, Mladen; Brady, Noel (1997), "Morse theory and finiteness properties of groups", Inventiones Mathematicae , 129 (3): 445–470, Bibcode:1997InMat.129..445B, doi:10.1007/s002220050168, MR   1465330, S2CID   120422255
  15. Martin R. Bridson, James Howie, Charles F. Miller, and Hamish Short. "The subgroups of direct products of surface groups". Geometriae Dedicata , vol. 92 (2002), pp. 95103.
  16. Martin R. Bridson, and James Howie. "Subgroups of direct products of elementarily free groups." Geometric and Functional Analysis , vol. 17 (2007), no. 2, pp. 385403
  17. Martin R. Bridson, and James Howie. Subgroups of direct products of two limit groups. Archived 2008-07-05 at the Wayback Machine Mathematical Research Letters, vol. 14 (2007), no. 4, 547558.
  18. John R. Stallings. On torsion-free groups with infinitely many ends. Annals of Mathematics (2), vol. 88 (1968), pp. 312334.
  19. John Stallings. "Groups of cohomological dimension one." Applications of Categorical Algebra (Proc. Sympos. Pure Math., Vol. XVIII, New York, 1968) pp. 124128. American Mathematical Society, Providence, R.I, 1970.
  20. John R. Stallings. Groups of dimension 1 are locally free. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, vol. 74 (1968), pp. 361364
  21. Martin J. Dunwoody. "Cutting up graphs." Combinatorica 2 (1982), no. 1, pp. 1523.
  22. Warren Dicks and Martin J. Dunwoody. Groups acting on graphs. Cambridge Studies in Advanced Mathematics, 17. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989. ISBN   0-521-23033-0
  23. Peter Scott. "A new proof of the annulus and torus theorems." American Journal of Mathematics , vol. 102 (1980), no. 2, pp. 241277
  24. Gadde A. Swarup. "Relative version of a theorem of Stallings." [ dead link ] Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra , vol. 11 (1977/78), no. 13, pp. 7582
  25. Martin J. Dunwoody and E. L. Swenson. "The algebraic torus theorem." Inventiones Mathematicae , vol. 140 (2000), no. 3, pp. 605637
  26. G. Peter Scott, and Gadde A. Swarup. An algebraic annulus theorem. Archived 2007-07-15 at the Wayback Machine Pacific Journal of Mathematics , vol. 196 (2000), no. 2, pp. 461506
  27. Michah Sageev. "Ends of group pairs and non-positively curved cube complexes." Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (3), vol. 71 (1995), no. 3, pp. 585617
  28. Wall, C. T. C. (2003). "The geometry of abstract groups and their splittings". Revista Matemática Complutense. 16 (1): 5–101.
  29. John R. Stallings. "Topology of finite graphs." Inventiones Mathematicae , vol. 71 (1983), no. 3, pp. 551565
  30. Roger C. Lyndon and Paul E. Schupp. Combinatorial Group Theory. SpringerVerlag, New York, 2001. "Classics in Mathematics" series, reprint of the 1977 edition. ISBN   978-3-540-41158-1
  31. 1 2 Ilya Kapovich and Alexei Myasnikov. "Stallings foldings and subgroups of free groups." Journal of Algebra , vol. 248 (2002), no. 2, 608668
  32. J. Meakin, and P. Weil. Subgroups of free groups: a contribution to the Hanna Neumann conjecture. Proceedings of the Conference on Geometric and Combinatorial Group Theory, Part I (Haifa, 2000). Geometriae Dedicata, vol. 94 (2002), pp. 3343.
  33. Dicks, Warren (1994). "Equivalence of the strengthened Hanna Neumann conjecture and the amalgamated graph conjecture". Inventiones Mathematicae . 117 (3): 373–389. Bibcode:1994InMat.117..373D. doi:10.1007/BF01232249. S2CID   121902432.
  34. Dicks, Warren; Formanek, Edward W. (2001). "The rank three case of the Hanna Neumann conjecture". Journal of Group Theory. 4 (2): 113–151. doi:10.1515/jgth.2001.012.
  35. Bilal Khan. Positively generated subgroups of free groups and the Hanna Neumann conjecture. Combinatorial and geometric group theory (New York, 2000/Hoboken, NJ, 2001), pp. 155170, Contemp. Math., 296, American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, 2002; ISBN   0-8218-2822-3
  36. Jean-Camille Birget, and Stuart W. Margolis. Two-letter group codes that preserve aperiodicity of inverse finite automata. Semigroup Forum, vol. 76 (2008), no. 1, pp. 159168
  37. D. S. Ananichev, A. Cherubini, M. V. Volkov. Image reducing words and subgroups of free groups. Theoretical Computer Science, vol. 307 (2003), no. 1, pp. 7792.
  38. J. Almeida, and M. V. Volkov. "Subword complexity of profinite words and subgroups of free profinite semigroups." International Journal of Algebra and Computation, vol. 16 (2006), no. 2, pp. 221258.
  39. Benjamin Steinberg. "A topological approach to inverse and regular semigroups." Pacific Journal of Mathematics , vol. 208 (2003), no. 2, pp. 367396
  40. John R. Stallings. "Foldings of G-trees." Arboreal group theory (Berkeley, CA, 1988), pp. 355368, Math. Sci. Res. Inst. Publ., 19, Springer, New York, 1991; ISBN   0-387-97518-7
  41. Mladen Bestvina and Mark Feighn. 2Bounding the complexity of simplicial group actions on trees", Inventiones Mathematicae , vol. 103, (1991), no. 3, pp. 449469
  42. Martin Dunwoody, Folding sequences, The Epstein birthday schrift, pp. 139158, Geometry and Topology Monographs, 1, Geom. Topol. Publ., Coventry, 1998.
  43. Ilya Kapovich, Richard Weidmann, and Alexei Miasnikov. "Foldings, graphs of groups and the membership problem." International Journal of Algebra and Computation, vol. 15 (2005), no. 1, pp. 95128.
  44. Yuri Gurevich, and Paul Schupp, "Membership problem for the modular group", SIAM Journal on Computing, vol. 37 (2007), no. 2, pp. 425459.
  45. John R. Stallings. "Non-positively curved triangles of groups." Group theory from a geometrical viewpoint (Trieste, 1990), pp. 491503, World Sci. Publ., River Edge, NJ, 1991; ISBN   981-02-0442-6
  46. André Haefliger. "Complexes of groups and orbihedra" in: Group theory from a geometrical viewpoint (Trieste, 1990)", pp. 504540, World Sci. Publ., River Edge, NJ, 1991. ISBN   981-02-0442-6
  47. Jon Corson. "Complexes of groups." Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (3) 65 (1992), no. 1, pp. 199224.
  48. Martin R. Bridson, and André Haefliger. "Metric spaces of non-positive curvature". Grundlehren der Mathematischen Wissenschaften [Fundamental Principles of Mathematical Sciences], 319. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1999. ISBN   3-540-64324-9
  49. John R. Stallings. "On fibering certain 3-manifolds." 1962 Topology of 3-manifolds and related topics (Proc. The Univ. of Georgia Institute, 1961) pp. 95100. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
  50. John Hempel and William Jaco. 3-manifolds which fiber over a surface. American Journal of Mathematics, vol. 94 (1972), pp. 189205
  51. Alois Scharf. "Zur Faserung von Graphenmannigfaltigkeiten." (in German) Mathematische Annalen , vol. 215 (1975), pp. 3545.
  52. Louis Zulli. "Semibundle decompositions of 3-manifolds and the twisted cofundamental group." Topology and its Applications, vol. 79 (1997), no. 2, pp. 159172
  53. Nathan M. Dunfield, and Dylan P. Thurston. "A random tunnel number one 3-manifold does not fiber over the circle." Geometry & Topology , vol. 10 (2006), pp. 24312499
  54. William Browder and Jerome Levine. 2Fibering manifolds over a circle." Commentarii Mathematici Helvetici , vol. 40 (1966), pp. 153160
  55. 1 2 John R. Stallings. Topology Seminar, Wisconsin, 1965. Edited by R. H. Bing and R. J. Bean. Annals of Mathematics Studies, No. 60. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1966
  56. Robert Myers. "Splitting homomorphisms and the geometrization conjecture." Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society , vol. 129 (2000), no. 2, pp. 291300
  57. Tullio Ceccherini-Silberstein. "On the Grigorchuk–Kurchanov conjecture." Manuscripta Mathematica 107 (2002), no. 4, pp. 451461
  58. V. N. Berestovskii. "Poincaré's conjecture and related statements." (in Russian) Izvestiya Vysshikh Uchebnykh Zavedenii. Matematika. vol. 51 (2000), no. 9, pp. 341; translation in Russian Mathematics (Izvestiya VUZ. Matematika), vol. 51 (2007), no. 9, 136
  59. Valentin Poénaru. "Autour de l'hypothèse de Poincaré". in: Géométrie au XXe siècle, 19302000 : histoire et horizons. Montréal, Presses internationales Polytechnique, 2005. ISBN   2-553-01399-X, 9782553013997.

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