In September 1981, Mr. Vaughn sponsored the world’s first major conference on the Fermat puzzle. It takes place at Endicott’s Housean MIT meeting center near Boston located in a French manor house on tree-lined grounds. Organizing Committee are Dr. Goldfeld of Columbia, Dr. Edwards of NYU, Dr. Koblitz of the University of Washington, Nicholas Katz of Princeton University, and two Harvard mathematicians: Barry Mazur and Dr. Wiles.
The conference attracted 76 participants, 16 from abroad, and mathematicians presented 25 research papers. It was a significant change from the initial lack of interest. Attendees including Dr. Coates, doctoral advisor to Dr. Wiles; Dr. Iwasawa, professor at Princeton; and Atle Selberg, a giant of mathematics, who later won the Abel Award.
In the book’s preface, Dr. Goldfeld credits Mr. Vaughn for the idea for the conference and thanks him for supporting it and “pure mathematics in general”. Half a dozen chapters of the book, including one co-written by Dr. Wiles, deal with Iwasawa theory and elliptic curves.
Some attendees complained to Mr. Vaughn that direct attacks on the Fermat question were sidelined by the elliptic curve focus, Dr. Goldfeld recalls Mr. Vaughn. But Mr. Vaughn, he added, “was finally right” to embrace the esoteric sub-specialty.
Immediately after the Boston conference, Mr. Vaughn aimed higher. As a “major benefactor”, he helped fund a 1986 gathering of International Congress of Mathematicians, the world’s largest mathematical body. The week long math festival held in Berkeley, Calif.
On the margins of it, a discovery suggesting a Fermat process is possible. It happened to the cappuccino when Dr. Mazur of Harvard met Ken Ribet, a Berkeley math professor. When Dr. Ribet described his most recent work on the Fermat question, Dr. Mazur, fresh from the Boston conference, stared at him in surprise. “But you don’t see?” he asksbased on “The Mystery of Fermat,” Author Simon Singh’s account of its resolution. “You did it!”
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