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Math Trek

Insights into symmetry

Abel Prize awarded for advances in group theory

By
4:08pm, May 4, 2008

The 2008 Abel Prize was awarded to John Griggs Thompson of the University of Florida and Jacques Tits of the Collège de France for their contributions to group theory, the mathematical field that analyzes symmetry. The Abel Prize is widely considered mathematics’ equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Thompson, a professor at the University of Florida, proved fundamental results about symmetry that led to the discovery of the basic building blocks of all finite symmetries, one of the greatest findings in 20th century mathematics. Tits showed how to create geometrical objects with the symmetry of almost all of these building blocks.

The study of symmetry has influenced much of mathematics and portions of science during the last 150 years. Physicists use symmetry to understand the deepest patterns of the universe, computers use it to transmit information across noisy channels without errors and chemists use it in crystallography.

Mathematicians consider an o

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