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College Stories: Mladen Bestvina

Mladen Bestvina

Distinguished Scholarly & Creative Research Award 

Distinguished Professor Mladen Bestvina has received the University’s Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award for 2019. 

 “I am very honored and humbled by the award, and I appreciate the recognition very much,” said Bestvina. “But I should emphasize that a lot of credit for my work goes to my collaborators.” 

Bestvina’s research focuses on symmetries of objects (called "groups" in mathematics) from the point of view of geometry and topology. For example: Imagine an infinite chess board—the plane with the usual tiling into squares (ignore the colors of the squares that a chess board would have). What is the group of symmetries? An example of a symmetry is a translation of the entire board by a whole number of squares in the direction of a side of a square. You could also reflect in certain lines. In the language of geometric group theory, this group is “virtually Z+Z.” 

 “Conversely, suppose someone hands you a group and asks you to understand it,” said Bestvina. “Then you would build an object (a “space”) whose group of symmetries is the given group. If the group is virtually Z+Z, you would build the plane and understand the group using Euclidian geometry you learned in high school. There are more complicated groups, and building corresponding spaces and understanding their geometry is a lot of fun,” he said.

Professors are nominated for the research award, and here is what a nominator said about Bestvina: “In addition to his excellent work in the field, he has been an extensive promoter of the field and its problems. This is not only through advising many students over the years, but also in mentoring postdocs and organizing many conferences and programs around the topic of geometric group theory. …I regard Bestvina as one of the top people in the areas of geometric group theory.”  

Bestvina was born in Croatia and received a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Tennessee. He joined the U as a professor in 1993 and became a Distinguished Professor in 2008. 

He is the father to three teenagers and enjoys hiking, bicycling, and playing chess. 





Last Updated: 5/9/19