Wolfgang Haken

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Wolfgang Haken
Wolfgang Haken 2008.jpg
Wolfgang Haken
Born (1928-06-21) June 21, 1928 (age 93)
Berlin, Germany
Alma materKiel University
OccupationMathematician, professor
Known forSolving the four-color theorem

Wolfgang Haken (born June 21, 1928) is a German mathematician who specializes in topology, in particular 3-manifolds.



Haken was born in Berlin, Germany. His father was Werner Haken, a physicist who had Max Planck as a doctoral thesis advisor. [1] In 1953, Haken earned a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Kiel University) and married Anna-Irmgard von Bredow, who earned a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from the same university in 1959. In 1962, they left Germany so he could accept a position as visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He became a full professor in 1965, retiring in 1998.

In 1976, together with colleague Kenneth Appel at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Haken solved the four-color theorem. They proved that any two-dimensional map, with certain limitations, can be filled in with four colors without any adjacent “countries” sharing the same color. Haken has introduced several ideas, including Haken manifolds, Kneser-Haken finiteness, and an expansion of the work of Kneser into a theory of normal surfaces. Much of his work has an algorithmic aspect, and he is a figure in algorithmic topology. One of his key contributions to this field is an algorithm to detect if a knot is unknotted.

Haken's eldest son, Armin, proved that there exist propositional tautologies that require resolution proofs of exponential size. [2] Haken's eldest daughter, Dorothea Blostein, is a professor of computer science, known for her discovery of the master theorem for divide-and-conquer recurrences. Another of Haken’s sons, Lippold, is the inventor of the Continuum Fingerboard. Wolfgang is the cousin of Hermann Haken, a physicist known for laser theory and synergetics.

In 1978, Haken delivered an invited address at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Helsinki. [3] He was a recipient of the 1979 Fulkerson Prize of the American Mathematical Society for his solution with Appel of the four-color theorem. [4]

Wolfgang Haken discusses the four-color theorem with Marshall Pangilinan. They are looking at the book 99 Variations on a Proof by Philip Ording. Wolfgang Haken with Marshall Pangilinan.jpg
Wolfgang Haken discusses the four-color theorem with Marshall Pangilinan. They are looking at the book 99 Variations on a Proof by Philip Ording.

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  1. Werner Haken, Beitrag zur Kenntnis der thermoelektrischen Eigenschaften der Metallegierungen. Accessed May 6, 2019
  2. Avi Wigderson, Mathematics and Computation, March 27 2018, footnote at Theorem 6.11
  3. International Congress of Mathematicians 1978. International Mathematical Union. Accessed May 29, 2011
  4. Delbert Ray Fulkerson Prize, American Mathematical Society. Accessed May 29, 2011