Max Dehn

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Max Dehn (November 13, 1878June 27, 1952) was a German mathematician. He studied the foundations of geometry with Hilbert at Göttingen in 1899, and obtained a proof of the Jordan curve theorem for polygons. In 1900 he wrote his dissertation on the role of the Legendre angle sum theorem in axiomatic geometry. Also in 1900 he resolved Hilbert's third problem.

Dehn's interests later turned to topology and combinatorial group theory. In 1907 he wrote with Poul Heegaard the first book on the foundations of combinatorial topology, then known as analysis situs. Also in 1907, he described the construction of a new homology sphere. In 1908 he believed that he had found a proof of the Poincaré conjecture, but Tietze found an error.

In 1910 Dehn published a paper on three dimensional topology in which he introduced Dehn surgery and used it to construct homology spheres. He also stated Dehn's lemma, but an error was found in his proof by Hellmuth Kneser in 1929. The result was proved in 1957 by Christos Papakyriakopoulos. The word problem for groups, also called the Dehn problem, was posed by him in 1911.

In 1912 Dehn invented what is now known as Dehn's algorithm and used it in his work on the word and conjugacy problems for groups. In 1914 he proved that the left and right trefoil knots are not equivalent. In the early 1920's Dehn introduced the result that would come to be known as the Dehn-Nielsen theorem; its proof would be published in 1927 by Jakob Nielsen.

In 1922 Dehn succeeded Ludwig Bieberbach at Frankfurt, where he stayed until he was forced to retire in 1935. He stayed in Germany until January 1939, when he fled to Copenhagen, and then to Trondheim, Norway, where he took a position at the Technical University. In October 1940 he left Norway for America by way of Siberia and Japan (the Atlantic crossing was considered too dangerous).

In America, Dehn obtained a position at Idaho Southern University (now Idaho state). In 1942 he took a job at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and in 1943 he moved to St. John's College. Finally in 1945, he moved to Black Mountain College, where he was the only mathematician. He died there on June 27, 1952.

See also

Dehn twist

fr:Max Dehn