John Griggs Thompson
National Medal of Science
Mathematics And Computer Science
For his profound and lasting contributions to the mathematical sciences, providing fundamental advances for the study of finite simple groups, the inverse Galois problem and connections between group theory and number theory.
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BirthOctober 13, 1932
Country of BirthUSA
Key ContributionsAbstract Symmetries
Finite Group Theory
Awarded byBill Clinton
University of Chicago
Areas of ImpactTheory & Foundations
AffiliationsUniversity of Florida
At 26 years old, John Griggs Thompson used his doctoral thesis to solve a problem that had puzzled mathematicians for nearly double the time he’d been alive.
The achievement, touted in the New York Times, concerned Frobenius’ conjecture, a function of group theory.
Group theory studies structures called “groups,” a central factor in abstract algebra. Following Thompson’s discovery, the field rose to prominence and saw rapid progress in problem-solving, including the classification of finite simple groups.
A finite group is built from a collection of finite simple groups like a Rubik’s cube that can be manipulated into three rows of smaller cubes.
Thompson’s theory of finite groups laid the foundation for their classification, determining that non-elementary simple groups contain an even number of elements – a proof that filled 250 pages.
In addition, Thompson concluded that all finite simple groups belong to standard families, except for 26 sporadic groups that stand alone.