Karen Vogtmann

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Karen Vogtmann
Karen Vogtmann 2006 MFO.jpg
Born (1949-07-13) July 13, 1949 (age 68)
Pittsburg, California
Nationality American
Alma mater Ph.D., 1977 University of California, Berkeley
Known for Culler–Vogtmann Outer space
Scientific career
Fields geometric group theory,
algebraic K-theory
Doctoral advisor John Bason Wagoner

Karen Vogtmann (born July 13, 1949 in Pittsburg, California[1]) is an American mathematician working primarily in the area of geometric group theory. She is known for having introduced, in a 1986 paper with Marc Culler,[2] an object now known as the Culler–Vogtmann Outer space. The Outer space is a free group analog of the Teichmüller space of a Riemann surface and is particularly useful in the study of the group of outer automorphisms of the free group on n generators, Out(Fn). Vogtmann is a Professor of Mathematics at Cornell University and The University of Warwick.

Biographical data[edit]

Vogtmann was inspired to pursue mathematics by a National Science Foundation summer program for high school students at the University of California, Berkeley.[3]

She received a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971. Vogtmann then obtained a PhD in Mathematics, also from the University of California, Berkeley in 1977.[4] Her PhD advisor was John Wagoner and her doctoral thesis was on algebraic K-theory.[3]

She then held positions at University of Michigan, Brandeis University and Columbia University.[5] Vogtmann has been a faculty member at Cornell University since 1984, and she became a Full Professor at Cornell in 1994.[5] In September 2013, she also joined the University of Warwick. She is currently a Professor of Mathematics at Warwick, and a Goldwin Smith Professor of Mathematics Emeritus at Cornell.[6]

Vogtmann has been the Vice-President of the American Mathematical Society (2003–2006).[4][7] She has been elected to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Mathematical Society for the period February 2008 – January 2018.[8][9]

Vogtmann is a former Editorial Board member (2006-2006) of the journal Algebraic and Geometric Topology and a former Associate Editor of Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society.[10] She is currently an Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Mathematical Society,[11] an Editorial Board member Geometry & Topology Monographs book series,[12] and a Consulting Editor for the Proceedings of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society.[13]

She is also a member of the ArXiv Advisory Board.[14]

Since 1986 Vogtmann has been a co-organizer of the annual conference called the Cornell Topology Festival[15] that usually takes places at Cornell University each May.

Awards, honors and other recognition[edit]

Vogtmann gave an invited lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid, Spain in August 2006.[16][17]

She gave the 2007 annual AWM Noether Lecture titled "Automorphisms of Free Groups, Outer Space and Beyond" at the annual meeting of American Mathematical Society in New Orleans in January 2007.[3][18] Vogtmann was selected to deliver the Noether Lecture for "her fundamental contributions to geometric group theory; in particular, to the study of the automorphism group of a free group".[19]

On June 21–25, 2010 a 'VOGTMANNFEST' Geometric Group Theory conference in honor of Karen Vogtmann's birthday was held in Luminy, France.[20]

In 2012 she became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[21]

Karen Vogtmann received the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2014.[22] She also received the Humboldt Research Award from the Humboldt Foundation in 2014.[23][24] Vogtmann was a Clay Senior Scholar in 2016.[25]

Karen Vogtmann gave a plenary talk at the 2016 European Congress of Mathematics in Berlin. [26][27]

Mathematical contributions[edit]

Vogtmann's early work concerned homological properties of orthogonal groups associated to quadratic forms over various fields.[28][29]

Vogtmann's most important contribution came in a 1986 paper with Marc Culler called "Moduli of graphs and automorphisms of free groups".[2] The paper introduced an object that came to be known as Culler–Vogtmann Outer space. The Outer space Xn, associated to a free group Fn, is a free group analog[30] of the Teichmüller space of a Riemann surface. Instead of marked conformal structures (or, in an equivalent model, hyperbolic structures) on a surface, points of the Outer space are represented by volume-one marked metric graphs. A marked metric graph consists of a homotopy equivalence between a wedge of n circles and a finite connected graph Γ without degree-one and degree-two vertices, where Γ is equipped with a volume-one metric structure, that is, assignment of positive real lengths to edges of Γ so that the sum of the lengths of all edges is equal to one. Points of Xn can also be thought of as free and discrete minimal isometric actions Fn on real trees where the quotient graph has volume one.

By construction the Outer space Xn is a finite-dimensional simplicial complex equipped with a natural action of Out(Fn) which is properly discontinuous and has finite simplex stabilizers. The main result of Culler–Vogtmann 1986 paper,[2] obtained via Morse-theoretic methods, was that the Outer space Xn is contractible. Thus the quotient space Xn /Out(Fn) is "almost" a classifying space for Out(Fn) and it can be thought of as a classifying space over Q. Moreover, Out(Fn) is known to be virtually torsion-free, so for any torsion-free subgroup H of Out(Fn) the action of H on Xn is discrete and free, so that Xn/H is a classifying space for H. For these reasons the Outer space is a particularly useful object in obtaining homological and cohomological information about Out(Fn). In particular, Culler and Vogtmann proved[2] that Out(Fn) has virtual cohomological dimension 2n − 3.

In their 1986 paper Culler and Vogtmann do not assign Xn a specific name. According to Vogtmann,[31] the term Outer space for the complex Xn was later coined by Peter Shalen. In subsequent years the Outer space became a central object in the study of Out(Fn). In particular, the Outer space has a natural compactification, similar to Thurston's compactification of the Teichmüller space, and studying the action of Out(Fn) on this compactification yields interesting information about dynamical properties of automorphisms of free groups.[32][33][34][35]

Much of Vogtmann's subsequent work concerned the study of the Outer space Xn, particularly its homotopy, homological and cohomological properties, and related questions for Out(Fn). For example, Hatcher and Vogtmann[36][37] obtained a number of homological stability results for Out(Fn) and Aut(Fn).

In her papers with Conant,[38][39][40] Vogtmann explored the connection found by Maxim Kontsevich between the cohomology of certain infinite-dimensional Lie algebras and the homology of Out(Fn).

A 2001 paper of Vogtmann, joint with Billera and Holmes, used the ideas of geometric group theory and CAT(0) geometry to study the space of phylogenetic trees, that is trees showing possible evolutionary relationships between different species.[41] Identifying precise evolutionary trees is an important basic problem in mathematical biology and one also needs to have good quantitative tools for estimating how accurate a particular evolutionary tree is. The paper of Billera, Vogtmann and Holmes produced a method for quantifying the difference between two evolutionary trees, effectively determining the distance between them.[42] The fact that the space of phylogenetic trees has "non-positively curved geometry", particularly the uniqueness of shortest paths or geodesics in CAT(0) spaces, allows using these results for practical statistical computations of estimating the confidence level of how accurate particular evolutionary tree is. A free software package implementing these algorithms has been developed and is actively used by biologists.[42]

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Biographies of Candidates 2002. Notices of the American Mathematical Society. September 2002, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp. 970–981
  2. ^ a b c d Culler, Marc; Vogtmann, Karen (1986), "Moduli of graphs and automorphisms of free groups" (PDF), Inventiones Mathematicae, 84 (1): 91–119, doi:10.1007/BF01388734. 
  3. ^ a b c Karen Vogtmann, 2007 Noether Lecture, Profiles of Women in Mathematics. The Emmy Noether Lectures. Association for Women in Mathematics. Accessed November 28, 2008
  4. ^ a b Biographies of Candidates 2007. Notices of the American Mathematical Society. September 2007, Volume 54, Issue 8, pp. 1043–1057
  5. ^ a b Karen Vogtmann's Curriculum Vitae
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ 2002 Election results. Notices of the American Mathematical Society. February 2003, Volume 50 Issue 2, p. 281
  8. ^ 2007 Election Results. Notices of the American Mathematical Society. February 2008, Volume 55, Issue 2, p. 301
  9. ^ 2012 Election Results, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, February 2013, Volume 60, Issue 2, p. 256
  10. ^ CURRICULUM VITAE - Karen Vogtmann, University of Warwick. Accessed September 14, 2017
  11. ^ Editorial Board, Journal of the American Mathematical Society. Accessed September 14, 2017.
  12. ^ Editorial Board, Geometry & Topology Monographs. Accessed September 14, 2017
  13. ^ Editorial Board, Proceedings of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society. Accessed September 14, 2017.
  14. ^ ArXiv Advisory Board. ArXiv. Accessed November 27, 2008
  15. ^ Cornell Topology Festival, grant summary. Cornell University. Accessed November 28, 2008
  16. ^ ICM 2006 – Invited Lectures. Abstracts, International Congress of Mathematicians, 2006.
  17. ^ Karen Vogtmann, The cohomology of automorphism groups of free groups. International Congress of Mathematicians. Vol. II, 1101–1117, Invited lectures. Proceedings of the congress held in Madrid, August 22–30, 2006. Edited by Marta Sanz-Solé, Javier Soria, Juan Luis Varona and Joan Verdera. European Mathematical Society (EMS), Zürich, 2006. ISBN 978-3-03719-022-7
  18. ^ Invited Addresses, Sessions, and Other Activities. AMS 2007 Annual Meeting. American Mathematical Society. Accessed November 28, 2008
  19. ^ Karen Vogtmann named 2007 Noether Lecturer. Association for Women in Mathematics press release. May 2, 2006. Accessed November 29, 2008
  20. ^ VOGTMANNFEST, conference info. Department of Mathematics, University of Utah. Accessed July 13, 2010
  21. ^ List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 2013-08-29.
  22. ^ Royal Society announces new round of esteemed Wolfson Research Merit Awards, The Royal Society press release, 09 May 2014. Accessed 14 September, 2017.
  23. ^ Awards: since March 2013, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Accessed September 14, 2017
  24. ^ Karen Vogtmann receives Humboldt Research Award, Math Matters. Department of Mathematics, Cornell University, December 2014; p. 2
  25. ^ Karen Vogtmann: Recent Senior Scholars, Clay Mathematics Institute. Accessed September 14, 2017
  26. ^ 7ECM Plenary Talks, 7th European Congress of Mathematics, July 18 - 22, 2016. The quadrennial Congress of the European Mathematical Society. Accessed September 14, 2017
  27. ^ Editorial: 7th European Congress of Mathematics, Newsletter of the European Mathematical Society, June 2015, issue 96, p. 3
  28. ^ Karen Vogtmann, Spherical posets and homology stability for . Topology, vol. 20 (1981), no. 2, pp. 119–132.
  29. ^ Karen Vogtmann, A Stiefel complex for the orthogonal group of a field. Commentarii Mathematici Helvetici, vol. 57 (1982), no. 1, pp. 11–21
  30. ^ Benson Farb. Problems on Mapping Class Groups and Related Topics. American Mathematical Society, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8218-3838-9; p. 335
  31. ^ Karen Vogtmann, Automorphisms of free groups and Outer space. Geometriae Dedicata, vol. 94 (2002), pp. 1–31; Quote from p. 3: "Peter Shalen later invented the name Outer space for Xn".
  32. ^ M. Bestvina, M. Feighn, M. Handel, Laminations, trees, and irreducible automorphisms of free groups. Geometric and Functional Analysis, vol. 7 (1997), no. 2, 215–244
  33. ^ Gilbert Levitt and Martin Lustig, Irreducible automorphisms of Fn have north-south dynamics on compactified Outer space. Journal of the Institute of Mathematics of Jussieu, vol. 2 (2003), no. 1, 59–72
  34. ^ Gilbert Levitt, and Martin Lustig, Automorphisms of free groups have asymptotically periodic dynamics. Crelle's journal, vol. 619 (2008), pp. 1–36
  35. ^ Vincent Guirardel, Dynamics of Out(Fn) on the boundary of Outer space. Annales Scientifiques de l'École Normale Supérieure (4), vol. 33 (2000), no. 4, 433–465.
  36. ^ Allen Hatcher, and Karen Vogtmann. Cerf theory for graphs. Journal of the London Mathematical Society (2), vol. 58 (1998), no. 3, pp. 633–655.
  37. ^ A. Hatcher, and K. Vogtmann, Homology stability for outer automorphism groups of free groups. Algebraic and Geometric Topology, vol. 4 (2004), pp. 1253–1272
  38. ^ James Conant, and Karen Vogtmann. On a theorem of Kontsevich. Algebraic and Geometric Topology, vol. 3 (2003), pp. 1167–1224
  39. ^ James Conant, and Karen Vogtmann, Infinitesimal operations on complexes of graphs. Mathematische Annalen, vol. 327 (2003), no. 3, pp. 545–573.
  40. ^ James Conant, and Karen Vogtmann, Morita classes in the homology of automorphism groups of free groups. Geometry & Topology, vol. 8 (2004), pp. 1471–1499
  41. ^ Louis J. Billera, Susan P. Holmes, and Karen Vogtmann. Geometry of the space of phylogenetic trees. Advances in Applied Mathematics, vol. 27 (2001), no. 4, pp. 733–767
  42. ^ a b Julie Rehmeyer. A Grove of Evolutionary Trees. Science News. May 10, 2007. Accessed November 28, 2008

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