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Wolfgang Haken

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Wolfgang Haken
Haken in 2008
Born(1928-06-21)June 21, 1928
Berlin, Germany
DiedOctober 2, 2022(2022-10-02) (aged 94)
Alma materKiel University
Known forSolving the four-color theorem
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Doctoral advisorKarl-Heinrich Weise

Wolfgang Haken (German: [ˈvɔlfɡaŋ ˈhaːkn̩]; June 21, 1928 – October 2, 2022) was a German American mathematician who specialized in topology, in particular 3-manifolds.


Haken was born on June 21, 1928, in Berlin, Germany. His father was Werner Haken, a physicist who had Max Planck as a doctoral thesis advisor.[1] In 1953, Haken earned a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Kiel University) and married Anna-Irmgard von Bredow, who earned a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from the same university in 1959. In 1962, they left Germany so he could accept a position as visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He became a full professor in 1965, retiring in 1998.

In 1976, together with colleague Kenneth Appel at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Haken solved the four-color problem: they proved that any planar graph can be properly colored using at most four colors. Haken has introduced several ideas, including Haken manifolds, Kneser-Haken finiteness, and an expansion of the work of Kneser into a theory of normal surfaces. Much of his work has an algorithmic aspect, and he is a figure in algorithmic topology. One of his key contributions to this field is an algorithm to detect whether a knot is unknotted.

In 1978, Haken delivered an invited address at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Helsinki.[2] He was a recipient of the 1979 Fulkerson Prize of the American Mathematical Society for his proof with Appel of the four-color theorem.[3]

Wolfgang Haken discusses the four-color theorem with Marshall Pangilinan. They are looking at the book 99 Variations on a Proof by Philip Ording.

Haken died in Champaign, Illinois, on October 2, 2022, aged 94.[4]


Haken's eldest son, Armin, proved that there exist propositional tautologies that require resolution proofs of exponential size.[5] Haken's eldest daughter, Dorothea Blostein, is a professor of computer science, known for her discovery of the master theorem for divide-and-conquer recurrences. Haken’s second son, Lippold, is the inventor of the Continuum Fingerboard. Haken’s youngest son, Rudolf, is a professor of music, who established the world's first Electric Strings university degree program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.[6] Wolfgang is the cousin of Hermann Haken, a physicist known for laser theory and synergetics.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Werner Haken, Beitrag zur Kenntnis der thermoelektrischen Eigenschaften der Metallegierungen. Accessed May 6, 2019
  2. ^ International Congress of Mathematicians 1978. International Mathematical Union. Accessed May 29, 2011
  3. ^ Delbert Ray Fulkerson Prize, American Mathematical Society. Accessed May 29, 2011
  4. ^ "Wolfgang Haken's obituary". news-gazette.com. October 13, 2022. Archived from the original on October 14, 2022. Retrieved October 14, 2022.
  5. ^ Avi Wigderson, Mathematics and Computation, March 27 2018, footnote at Theorem 6.11
  6. ^ University of Illinois Electric Strings Degree Program Accessed November 15, 2022

External links[edit]