My previous post was about the mathematician John Conway, who died recently from COVID-19. This post is a tribute to my Georgia Tech School of Mathematics colleague Robin Thomas, who passed away on March 26th at the age of 57 following a long struggle with ALS. Robin was a good friend, an invaluable member of the Georgia Tech community, and a celebrated mathematician. After some brief personal remarks, I’ll discuss two of Robin’s most famous theorems (both joint with Robertson and Seymour) and describe the interplay between these results and two of the theorems I mentioned in my post about John Conway.

Continue reading# Category Archives: Topology

# John Nash and the theory of games

John Forbes Nash and his wife Alicia were tragically killed in a car crash on May 23, having just returned from a ceremony in Norway where John Nash received the prestigious Abel Prize in Mathematics (which, along with the Fields Medal, is the closest thing mathematics has to a Nobel Prize). Nash’s long struggle with mental illness, as well as his miraculous recovery, are depicted vividly in Sylvia Nasar’s book “A Beautiful Mind” and the Oscar-winning film which it inspired. In this post, I want to give a brief account of Nash’s work in game theory, for which he won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics. Before doing that, I should mention, however, that while this is undoubtedly Nash’s most influential work, he did many other things which from a purely mathematical point of view are much more technically difficult. Nash’s Abel Prize, for example (which he shared with Louis Nirenberg), was for his work in non-linear partial differential equations and its applications to geometric analysis, which most mathematicians consider to be Nash’s deepest contribution to mathematics. You can read about that work here. Continue reading

# The Mathematics of Marriage

It’s been a while since my last blog post — one reason being that I recently got married. In honor of that occasion, and my return to math blogging, here is a post on Hall’s Marriage Theorem.

Consider the following game of solitaire: you deal a deck of cards into 13 piles of 4 cards each, and your goal is to select one card from each pile so that no *value* (Ace through King) is repeated. It is a beautiful mathematical fact that this can always been done, no matter how the cards were originally dealt!

We will deduce this from a more general result due to Philip Hall commonly known as Hall’s Marriage Theorem. Suppose you are given finite sets and you wish to find **distinct** elements . (In our solitaire example, take to be the values of the cards in the pile.) Such a collection is called a **transversal** or **SDR** (system of distinct representatives). Under what conditions is this possible? Well, for a transversal to exist it is *necessary* that for each subset , the set contains at least elements. Hall’s theorem asserts that these conditions are also *sufficient*. Continue reading