2014 Niven Lecture - Bjorn Poonen
- Date: 05/26/2014
University of British Columbia
Undecidability in Number Theory
Hilbert’s Tenth Problem asked for an algorithm that, given a multivariable polynomial equation with integer coefficients, would decide whether there exists a solution in integers. Around 1970, Matiyasevich, building on earlier work of Davis, Putnam, and Robinson, showed that no such algorithm exists. However, the answer to the analogous question with integers replaced by rational numbers is still unknown, and there is not even agreement among experts as to what the answer should be.
Ivan Niven was a famous number theorist and expositor; his textbooks won numerous awards, have been translated into many languages and are widely used to this day. Niven was born in Vancouver in 1915, earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at UBC in 1934 and 1936 and his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1938. He was a faculty member at the University of Oregon from 1947 until his retirement in 1982. The annual Niven Lecture Series, held at UBC since 2005, is funded in part through a generous bequest from Ivan and Betty Niven to the UBC Mathematics Department.