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The Unsolved Math Problem:
Sometimes urban legends are true, and Snopes has the scoop on a particularly interesting one (interesting at least to those interested in math). Thanks to Zincro for the link.
reneviht (mail) (www):

The equations Dantzig tackled are perhaps more accurately described not as unsolvable problems, but as unproved statistical theorems for which he worked out proofs.


I'd heard of this. It'd be nice if Snopes had displayed this info more prominently; there are several problems in mathematics that can be proved unsolvable.
9.18.2006 7:46pm
OrinKerr:
As the Beatles put it, "nothing you can do that can't be done, no equation you can solve that can't be solved...."
9.18.2006 7:53pm
John Armstrong (mail):
"The scoop"? This is as well known as Abe Lincoln's log cabin in math departments.
9.18.2006 9:13pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Dantzig was truly impressive. Circa 2000 I attended a talk at a regular meeting of INFORMS (operations research society) and he outlined a statistical theory for software reliability. I raised my hand and told him he had just rediscovered Fisher’s fiducial inference. He asked me for a reference, and I gave him one. Later I received a thank you email. He seemed physically frail at the time. I’m really sorry to hear that he died last year.

Dantzig was the first to work out the simplex algorithm, which solves the linear programming problem.
9.18.2006 9:17pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Yes, he was an impressive guy. I once read an interview with him that the professor handed out, long ago, when I was grading a linear programming course at the UCLA Math Department.
9.18.2006 11:08pm
Truth Seeker:
Could someone suggest a good source for a list of the most popular remaining unsolved math problems?
9.19.2006 12:29am
Steven Jens (mail) (www):
Truth seeker: here's a fairly well-respected list of unsolved problems as of 1900. Some are still outstanding.
9.19.2006 12:50am
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Heck, I had a grad school (math) classmate come in the second week with the solution to the professor's open problem from the first. Except he had been in the room when the status was announced, so there wasn't the element of surprise. He was rather pleased with himself, even though he began by admitting, "I had to assume something stronger than the usual Axiom of Choice."

I've also heard the story told with Charles Fefferman as the student. I think it's truly happened more than once.

The most famous recent list of open problems may be found here. Note that the Poincaré Conjecture is now solved.
9.19.2006 1:40am
John Armstrong (mail):
Andrew: Well everyone lines up behind Charlie. That was my cue that I was onto something as an undergrad at UMD when my advisor had to resort to "you're no charlie Fefferman" to try to knock me down a peg.
9.19.2006 10:20am
Cato:
Polya describes a similar experience he had with a student in his class named von Neumann. Yeah, that one.

Polya said he presented an unsolvable equation at the beginning of one of his classes that Johnny had solved by the end. Polya writes somewhere that von Neumann was the only student he was truly scared of.
9.19.2006 3:52pm
ys:


Truth seeker: here's a fairly well-respected list of unsolved problems as of 1900. Some are still outstanding.


The most famous recent list of open problems may be found here. Note that the Poincaré Conjecture is now solved.

Funny how both a Millenium Prize Problem (the Poincaré Conjecture) and a Hilbert Problem (number X, incidentally also related to Millenium Problem #7) were solved by kids from the same high school (see here)
9.19.2006 4:24pm
Steven Jens (mail) (www):
My brother has quoted the late Princeton physicist Eugene Wigner as saying, "there are two kinds of people in the world: Johnny von Neumann and everybody else."

I like that blog entry by my brother, if only because he refers to the Wigner-Ekhart theorem (which I don't know, BTW) as "one of my all-time favorite theorems," which really gins up the nerd factor.
9.19.2006 8:25pm
W. Atpoi:
ZSM appreciates the hat tip, #60.
9.21.2006 3:35pm