Fermat’s Theorem: The Texas Oil Heir Who Took Math’s Impossible Challenge

In September 1981, Mr. Vaughn funded the first major world conference on Fermat’s Riddle. It took place at Endicott Housean MIT meeting center near Boston housed in a French-style mansion on leafy grounds. Organizers were Dr. Goldfeld from Columbia, Dr. Edwards from NYU, Dr. Koblitz from the University of Washington, Nicholas Katz from Princeton University and two Harvard mathematicians: Barry Mazur and Dr. Wiles.

The conference attracted 76 participants, including 16 foreigners, and the mathematicians presented 25 research papers. It was a drastic change from the initial lack of interest. The participants included Dr. Coates, Dr. Wiles’ doctoral advisor; Dr. Iwasawa, the Princeton professor; and Atle Selberg, a mathematical giant who later won the Abel Prize.

In 1982, the procedure have been published as “Number theory related to Fermat’s last theorem”. It was part of a series“Progress in Mathematics”, of which Dr. Coates was co-editor.

In the book’s preface, Dr. Goldfeld credited Mr. Vaughn with the idea for the lecture and thanked him for supporting her and “pure mathematics in general”. Half a dozen chapters in the book, including one co-authored by Dr. Wiles, dealt with Iwasawa’s theory and elliptic curves.

Some participants complained to Mr. Vaughn that direct attacks on Fermat’s question had been sidelined by the focus on the elliptic curve, Dr. Goldfeld recalled as Mr. Vaughn had said. But Mr. Vaughn, he added, “was right in the end” to have embraced the esoteric subspecialty.

Shortly after the Boston conference, Mr. Vaughn was aiming higher. As a “great benefactor”, he helped fund a 1986 gathering of International Congress of Mathematicians, the largest mathematics organization in the world. the week-long math festival took place in Berkeley, California.

On the sidelines, a discovery hinted at possible progress by Fermat. It happened over a cappuccino when Harvard’s Dr. Mazur met Ken Ribet, professor of mathematics at Berkeley. As Dr. Ribet described his most recent work on the Fermat question, Dr. Mazur, fresh from the Boston conference, gaped at him. “But don’t you see?” He askedaccording to “Fermat’s enigma», author Simon Singh’s account of his resolution. “You already did it !”

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