UC Santa Cruz math professor wins prestigious George Polya Prize

Harold Widom, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, will share the prestigious George Pólya Prize with UC Davis professor of mathematics Craig Tracy. The two mathematicians are being honored for their recent breakthroughs in the field of mathematical analysis.

"Harold Widom has long been, and remains, one of the brightest figures in the field of modern mathematical analysis," said Anthony Tromba, professor and chair of the Mathematics Department at UC Santa Cruz.

Widom and Tracy are being recognized for their recent work on random matrices, which has aroused great interest among physicists. They have discovered a new class of distribution functions called Tracy-Widom distributions. Like the Gaussian distribution, the familiar bell-shaped curve that describes fluctuations in repeated measurements of a physical quantity, Tracy-Widom distributions describe fluctuations for other classes of random events. Tracy-Widom distributions arise in many different situations, including statistical mechanical growth models and tiling problems.

The Pólya Prize, which consists of a medal and $20,000 in cash, was established by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) in 1969. Given every two years, the prize alternately awards an achievement in combinatorial theory and one in another area of interest to George Pólya, such as complex analysis or probability theory. Pólya, author of How To Solve It, is best known for his contributions to the field of problem solving. The prize will be presented to Widom and Tracy at SIAM's annual meeting in July.

Widom attended the City College of New York as an undergraduate, then received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from the University of Chicago. He came to UC Santa Cruz in 1968 from Cornell University, where he had been a full professor. Widom has been a Sloan Fellow and has won two Guggenheim Fellowships.


Editor's note: Reporters may contact Harold Widom at (831) 459-2652 or widom@cats.ucsc.edu.