Person: Wilf, Herbert Saul
Herbert Wilf was an American mathematician who worked in combinatorics and graph theory.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Alexander Wilf (1904-1980) had a profitable business in Philadelphia selling rugs, carpets and appliances.
- Alexander Wilf, known as Alex, had right-wing Zionist views and was a passionate supporter of the idea of creating a Jewish state in the middle east.
- Alexander Wilf was involved in smuggling refugees and arms into Palestine, using ships in which he had invested most of his wealth.
- Alex Wilf also put money into the Altalena which sailed for Tel Aviv in June 1948 with 940 fighters and a large quantity of arms and ammunition.
- Wilf was awarded a B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1952.
- After graduating from MIT, Wilf went to Columbia University where he studied for a Ph.D. supervised by Herbert Ellis Robbins, who was the Professor of Mathematical Statistics.
- Wilf was awarded his Ph.D. in 1958 and, in the following year, he was appointed as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Illinois.
- After three years in this position, Wilf was appointed as Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania.
- In January 1998 Wilf was named Thomas A Scott Professor.
- Even before the award of his doctorate, Wilf had written a remarkable range of papers: (with M Kalos) Monte Carlo solves reactor problems (1957); An open formula for the numerical integration of first order differential equations (1957); An open formula for the numerical integration of first order differential equations.
- Wilf's most memorable contribution in this area is now known as 'WZ theory'.
- For this work Wilf and Zeilberger were jointly awarded the Leroy P Steele Prize by the American Mathematical Society at the January 1998 meeting of the Society in Baltimore.
- The remarkably simple idea of the work of Wilf and Zeilberger has already changed a part of mathematics for the experts, for the high-level users outside the area, and the area itself.
- We must also mention Wilf's contributions to mathematics teaching.
- Let us look briefly at the books that Wilf has published, in addition to Mathematics for the Physical Sciences (1962) which we mentioned above.
- This book describes the work by Wilf and Zeilberger which led to them receiving the Leroy P Steele Prize by the American Mathematical Society and was jointly authored by Wilf, Marko Petkovsek and Doron Zeilberger.
- Finally we mention that Wilf founded two journals, The Journal of Algorithms in 1980 with co-founder Donald Knuth, and The Electronic Journal of Combinatorics in 1994 with co-founder Neil Calkin.
- Wilf died of a progressive neuromuscular disease.
- The Herbert S Wilf Award, recognising outstanding student achievement, is being set up at the Department of Mathematics, The University of Pennsylvania.
Born 13 June 1931, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Died 7 January 2012, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, USA.
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive