University of Miami
Department of Mathematics

College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor

Phillip Griffiths

Phillip Griffiths

Formerly Director of the Institute for Advanced Study
Member of the National Academy of Sciences

will present

A Tale of Two Mathematicians
It was the best of times...for mathematics

Thursday, February 11, 2016, 5:00pm
Learning Center, Room 130 (LC130)

Light refreshment reception to follow the lecture
All interested persons are welcome to attend.

Abstract: This is the story of some of the mathematical work of two mathematicians, Jean Victor Poncelet and Niels Henrik Abel. They were contemporaries in the early 19th century who never met and who were not even aware of each other's work. However, between them Poncelet and Abel laid the cornerstones of the modern field of algebraic geometry, a field that is central to current work in geometry, arithmetic and theoretical physics. In this talk I will try to explain what each of them did, Poncelet in geometry and Abel in analysis, and how the fusion of their work revealed one of the deepest aspects of mathematics. This fusion is captured by an amazing property of playing billiards on a table formed by two ellipses.


Dr. Phillip Griffiths is a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Scholar in Mathematics. He received his B.S. from Wake Forest University in 1959 and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1962. He served as the Institute for Advanced Study as Director from 1991 until 2003, as Professor of Mathematics from 2004 until 2009, and as Professor Emeritus since 2009. He has served as the Chair of its Science Initiative Group since 1999. He was Provost and James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics at Duke University from 1983 to 1991. He has also served on the faculties of the University of California at Berkeley, Princeton University and Harvard University.

Dr. Griffiths is one of the world’s foremost experts in algebraic geometry and was inducted into the National Academy of Science in 1979 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995. Among his many honors, Dr. Griffiths is the recipient of the Chern Medal from the International Mathematical Union (2014), the Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the American Mathematical Society (2014), the Brouwer Prize from the Royal Dutch Mathematical Society (2008) and the Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics (2008). He was a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow from 1980 until 1982.

Dr. Griffiths has served on many important advisory boards and committees throughout his career including the Board of Trustees for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (2008-2013; Chair 2010-2013), the Board of Directors of Banker’s Trust New York (1994-1999), the Board of Directors of Oppenheimer Funds (1999-2013), the Carnegie-IAS Commission on Mathematics and Science Education (Chair 2007-2009), and the Scientific Committee of the Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research (2010-2013). From 2002 to 2005 he was the Distinguished Presidential Fellow for International Affairs for the US National Academy of Sciences and from 2001 to 2010 Senior Advisor to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


The McKnight-Zame Distinguished Lecture Series is made possible by a generous donation from Dr. Jeffry Fuqua, who received his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Miami in 1972 under the direction of Professor James McKnight. This lecture series is named in honor of both Professor McKnight and Professor Alan Zame, who was a close mentor of Dr. Fuqua while he was a student at the University of Miami.