The work of Andrei Okounkov

  • Giovanni Felder

    ETH Zürich, Switzerland
The work of Andrei Okounkov cover

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Andrei Okounkov’s initial area of research is group representation theory, with particular emphasis on combinatorial and asymptotic aspects. He used this subject as a starting point to obtain spectacular results in many different areas of mathematics and mathematical physics, from complex and real algebraic geometry to statistical mechanics, dynamical systems, probability theory and topological string theory. The research of Okounkov has its roots in very basic notions such as partitions, which form a recurrent theme in his work. A partition λ of a natural number n is a non-increasing sequence of integers λ1 ≥λ2 ≥···≥0 adding up to n. Partitions are a basic combinatorial notion at the heart of the representation theory. Okounkov started his career in this field in Moscow where he worked with G. Olshanski, through whom he came in contact with A. Vershik and his school in St. Petersburg, in particular S. Kerov. The research programme of these mathematicians, to which Okounkov made substantial contributions, has at its core the idea that partitions and other notions of representation theory should be considered as random objects with respect to natural probability measures. This idea was further developed by Okounkov, who showed that, together with insights from geometry and ideas of high energy physics, it can be applied to the most diverse areas of mathematics.

This is an account of some of the highlights mostly of his recent research. I am grateful to Enrico Arbarello for explanations and for providing me with very useful notes on Okounkov’s work in algebraic geometry and its context.