Haken was born in Berlin, Germany. In 1962 he left Germany to become a visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He became a full professor by 1965 and is is now an emeritus professor. In 1976 together with colleague Kenneth Appel, also at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Haken solved the four-color problem. They proved that any map can be filled in with four colors without any adjacent "countries" sharing the same color.
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 igure in algorithmic topology. One of his contributions to this field is an algorithm to detect if a knot is unknotted.
Haken's daughter, Dorothea Blostein, is a professor of computer science known for her discovery of the master theorem for divide-and-conquer recurrences. Haken is the cousin of Hermann Haken, a physicist known for laser theory and Synergetics. In 1978 Wolfgang delivered an invited address at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Helsinki. He was a recipient of the 1979 Fulkerson Prize of the American Mathematical Society for his solution with Appel of the four-color problem.
- Haken, W. "Theorie der Normalflachen." Acta Math. 105, 245-375, 1961.
- Wolfgang Haken at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
- Haken's faculty page at UIUC
- Wolfgang Haken biography from World of Mathematics
- Lippold Haken's life story
- Haken, Armin (1985), "The intractability of resolution", Theoretical Computer Science, 39: 297–308, doi:10.1016/0304-3975(85)90144-6
- Appel, Kenneth; Haken, Wolfgang (1989), Every Planar Map is Four Colorable, AMS, p. xv, ISBN 0-8218-5103-9
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