"Dying Mathematician Spends Last Days on Area of Polygon," by Peter Landers. The Wall Street Journal, 29 July 2003, page 1.
A few months ago David Robbins, a mathematician at the Center for Communications Research--Princeton, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given no more than two years to live. Landers writes that Robbins' options were to search for a cure, continue his normal work routine, go home and wait to die, or his eventual choice, work on the following: What is the area of a polygon whose side lengths are known? Heron's formula gives the answer for triangles. Robbins solved the problem for pentagons and hexagons (published in 1994), and is now working with Julie Roskies on an answer for heptagons in hopes of finding a general polygonal formula. The article, which ran on The Journal's front page, gives some background on Dr. Robbins as well as other mathematicians' opinions of the problem.
--- Mike Breen