UT Austin Mathematician Elected to National Academy of Sciences

May 3, 2023 • by Marc Airhart

Cameron Gordon, a mathematician known for his research on knots, was elected to the country’s most prestigious scientific organization.

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Cameron Gordon, a professor of mathematics at The University of Texas at Austin, was elected this week to the National Academy of Sciences. The academy is the country’s most prestigious scientific organization, and election to it is one of the highest honors for American researchers.

Gordon, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in Mathematics #2, is one of 120 members and 23 international members inducted this year at the 160th Annual Meeting of the NAS in recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original scientific research.

Born in Scotland, Gordon received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1971. He is particularly known for his work in knot theory. He joined UT Austin as an assistant professor of mathematics in 1976 and was promoted to full professor in 1982. He was a Sloan Research Fellow in 1979. In 1999, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005 he was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

According to the Mathematics Genealogy Project, Gordon has advised 34 students, including UT Austin mathematician John Luecke.

“What makes him a great mathematician is that he is very smart, creative and hard-working,” said Luecke. “Cameron has used his Sid Richardson Chair here at UT to foster an active, friendly and fun environment for those of us working in topology.”

Gordon’s work on knots was featured in Quanta Magazine last year. In 1981, he had proposed a new way to describe how two knots related to each other, which could be used to organize them based on their complexity. A mathematician at the University of California, Berkeley recently proved Gordon’s conjecture.

“You throw [two knots] down on the table and they may look completely different, right?” Gordon told the magazine. “But if you can move one around so that it looks exactly like the other, then you say the knots are the same.”

Some of the other areas where he has made important fundamental contributions are: Gordon-Litherland pairing for knots; Casson-Gordon invariants for knots; a part in the resolution of the Smith Conjecture; introduction of the notion of a strongly irreducible Heegaard splitting for three dimensional spaces and properties; the Cyclic Surgery Theorem; the Knot Complement Theorem; and verification of the L-space Conjecture in many instances.

Gordon is one of 16 College of Natural Sciences faculty in the National Academy of Sciences, which is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The academy recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine—provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations. Gordon is the one of 21 faculty members in the College of Natural Sciences across the National Academies.


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