Isadore Singer wins faculty Killian Award


Institute Professor Isadore Singer, a world-renowned mathematician known for his work covering a broad spectrum of geometry, analysis and algebra, is MIT's James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award winner for 2005-2006.

"His work is fundamental in differential geometry, topology, in function and operator algebras and in partial differential equations," said Music and Theater Arts Professor Marcus Thompson, chair of the Killian Award Committee. Thompson announced the award during the May 18 faculty meeting.

Established in 1971 as a tribute to MIT's 10th president, the Killian Award recognizes extraordinary professional accomplishment by an MIT faculty member. The winner is asked to deliver a lecture in the spring term.

"One comment on [Singer's] work at the time of his appointment to the National Academy of Sciences was that 'probably no other living American mathematician has made basic contributions in so many fields,'" said Thompson, reading from the committee's citation. "[Singer] is one of the rare mathematicians who are able to communicate with theoretical physicists in their own language, and engage with them in genuine collaborations."

Smiling, Singer thanked his fellow faculty. "MIT is an amazing institution for faculty as well as students," he said. During his time at MIT, Singer said he has been most grateful for "the support and enthusiasm from both my colleagues and the Institution, and I am sure that will continue."

Born in Detroit in 1924, Singer received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in 1944. After obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1950, he joined the faculty at MIT. In 1987, he was named Institute Professor, the highest honor awarded by the faculty and administration at MIT.

A member of the American Academy of Art and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Singer has served on the Council of NAS, the Governing Board of the National Research Council and the White House Science Council.

In 1992 he received the AMS's Award for Distinguished Public Service. The citation recognized his "outstanding contribution to his profession, to science more broadly and to the public good."

Last year, Singer was awarded the Abel Prize, a mathematics award often likened to the Nobel Prize, for a series of papers he co-authored with Michael Atiyah. The Atiyah-Singer index theorem a crowning achievement built on more than 100 years of ideas. The papers also earned the Bôcher Prize from the American Mathematical Society in 1969.

In 2000, Singer was also awarded the Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement, also from the AMS. Previously, Singer won the Eugene Wigner Medal (1988) and the National Medal of Science (1983).

Despite his many achievements outside the Institute, Singer has always retained "his pedagogic itch," the Killian Committee said in its citation. "He is perhaps the only American mathematician to hold a Distinguished University Professorship who regularly teaches ordinary (as opposed to honors) first semester calculus."

In addition to Thompson, members of this year's Killian Award Committee were Dimitrius J. Bertsimas, the Boeing Professor of Operations Research in the Sloan School of Management; Magnet Lab Director Robert G. Griffin, professor of chemistry; Erich P. Ippen, the Elihu Thomson Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of physics; and Associate Professor Rosalind Picard of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 1, 2005 (download PDF).


Topics: Mathematics, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty

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