UCLA Mathematics Emeritus Professor Ronald Miech recently passed away. Ronald served the Department for 44 years and was instrumental in the history of actuarial mathematics at UCLA.  In 1978, Ronald and Ira L. Boyle, FSA, founded the actuarial program to help meet a growing need for actuaries. The actuarial program at UCLA has grown exponentially since then and continues to successfully prepare graduates to receive actuarial positions at prestigious firms throughout Southern California and the United States.

“Ronald J. Miech passed away on August 5, 2018. He was 83 years old. Ronald was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He is survived by his wife of 58 years Eileen; sons Edward and Richard; grandsons Henry and Carl; granddaughter Claire; and daughters-in-law Dawn Bravata and Paula Fomby.

Ronald joined the Air Force at age 16 and served as a cook, with most of his time spent in England. He completed his GED while in the service. Upon his discharge, he attended night school in Chicago until he earned enough academic credits to transfer to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. With the assistance of the GI Bill, he was able to pursue his love of mathematics and earn his Ph.D. Ronald accepted an offer from UCLA, where he was a Professor of Mathematics for 44 years.”Here’s the link to the full obituary: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?n=ronald-j-miech

I have had a good life

(Ik heb een goed leven gehad)

The quotation (in English and Dutch) above was exactly how Tonny Springer, a famous mathematician from Utrecht in Holland, and one of Robert Steinberg’s closest friends both personally and mathematically, wanted his life described after his death. It is also a perfect description of Robert Steinberg’s life.

Bob was born on May 25, 1922 in Soroki, Bessarabia, Romania (present day Soroca, Moldavia) and came to settle in Canada with his parents when he was still very young. He was a student of Richard Brauer in Toronto, receiving his PhD in 1948 before joining UCLA in 1948 where he stayed till the end. He had 12 PhD students complete their dissertations with him. He married Maria Alice née Weber in 1952 and settled down in Pacific Palisades, a small suburban community of Los Angeles near the Pacific Ocean. They led a simple life, and their house was always open for countless mathematicians and friends. I myself joined UCLA in 1965 and my wife Veda and I became very good friends of theirs, especially because of the closeness of my mathematical interests with his, and the proximity of our homes. We were fortunate to go to the lunches Maria arranged on Easter Sundays. Bob and Maria were avid hikers and liked to go camping in the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, almost annually. His was a gentle personality, full of humor and good sense, and he and Maria were an inseparable unit, almost like two quarks. They made generous gifts to the AMS and were members of the President’s Associates of the AMS.

He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985; his comment to me in a letter he wrote to me on that occasion was that it proved he still had friends in the Academy; and the letter contained more about Lakers and Celtics than his honor! He won the Leroy Steele prize of the AMS for a distinguished career and the citation singled out several of his great papers. All of his papers can be found in Robert Steinberg: Collected Papers, AMS, 1997.

He was awarded the Jeffery-Williams prize of the Canadian Mathematical Society in 1990. He was an invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Moscow in 1966. In 2003 the Journal of Algebra published a special issue to celebrate his eightieth birthday.

He must be regarded as one of the great mathematicians of our time. His main interest was in the theory of algebraic groups, especially semi simple groups, and his discoveries in this area rank him among the subject’s greatest innovators like Armand Borel and Claude Chevalley. His results were profound and yet, his methods were ultimately simple and transparent, a characteristic that only a truly great master can achieve. His famous lecture notes on Chevalley groups, written while he lectured on that topic in Yale in 1967, is a masterpiece of brevity, comprehensiveness, and beauty. They are probably the most famous unpublished notes in mathematics that I can think of. The theory of groups and algebras is littered with concepts and ideas originating from him: Steinberg cocycles, Steinberg symbols, the Steinberg character, Steinberg triples, Steinberg groups, and so on, to mention just a few.

Maria was an avid gardener and grew the most wonderful of roses in her garden. Above is the photo of the daylily that a close friend and neighbor of theirs, Bill Wilk, discovered, grew, and registered in the American Hemerocallis Society as  “Hemerocallis, Maria and Bob” in 2012.  “It is growing in the Daylily Garden at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and is a good, sturdy plant that blooms well. Bob and Maria always had blooming flowers on their property and were pleased to have a daylily named after them.  It meant a lot to them.” (From Bill Wilk’s letter to me)

When Maria passed away last year it was a cruel blow to Bob. In the last few months after she passed away I drew closer to him and visited him once every two weeks or so, discussing many things. I like to believe that these visits were pleasant and enjoyable to him.

It was a great good fortune for me to have been a friend of his for almost 50 years, to admire up close his greatness that was intertwined with simplicity and modesty. I will miss him very much as will all his friends.

V. S. Varadarajan


Robert J. Blattner (1931—2015)

The UCLA Department of Mathematics lost a distinguished member of its faculty with the passing away on June 13, 2015, of Professor Emeritus Robert J. Blattner. He joined UCLA in 1957 and remained there till his retirement in 1992.

His work was mainly in the theory of representations of Lie groups and quantum mechanics, and his contributions earned him worldwide recognition while he was active. Within this framework, his work was quite broad and spanned functional analysis, algebra, and problems of quantization. He was most widely known for a conjecture that he made, contained in the so-called Blattner formula, which suggested that a certain deep property of the discrete series of representations of a semi-simple real Lie group was true. He made this conjecture in the mid 1960s. The discrete series, constructed by Harish-Chandra, which is basic to most central questions in harmonic analysis and arithmetic, was still very new and very difficult to penetrate. The conjecture was later proved and the solution was published in 1975 by Wilfried Schmid and Henryk Hecht by analytic methods, and later, in 1979 by Thomas Enright who used algebraic methods; both proofs were quite deep, giving an indication of the insight that led Blattner to this conjecture. In this brief note I want to bring to focus a more detailed picture of his work, his wide interests, and his services to UCLA as well as to the broader mathematics community.

He was born in Milwaukee, WI, on August 6, 1931. He took his A.B., summa cum laude, from Harvard University in 1953, and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, in 1957. His supervisor was Irving Segal, although his work subsequently was deeply influenced by the work of George Mackey (his undergraduate advisor at Harvard) on induced representations. The theory of induced representations was created by Frobenius in the late nineteenth century for finite groups, and its scope was enlarged significantly by Mackey who extended it to all locally compact separable groups. Mackey’s work depended on the detailed use of very subtle measure-theoretic arguments, and Bob reformulated and proved some of the main results of that theory in a smooth context and without any separability assumptions. Years later, in collaboration with his (second) wife Susan Montgomery, he treated algebra actions as well as dualities for Hopf algebra modules, inspired partly by the work of Takesaki on dualities for von Neumann algebras. These works were actually among the forerunners for the theory of quantum groups and non-commutative geometry that emerged later. He was also interested in geometric quantization which is essentially a way of doing quantum mechanics on manifolds, and wrote several papers on it, with J. H. Rawnsley and Joseph Wolf. As an indication of his breadth, I should mention that he was the supervisor of Mitch Rothstein (who is now a professor at the University of Georgia) and helped him to write a thesis on the foundations of supermanifolds. He had altogether 6 Ph.D. students who finished their dissertations under him. In those early days, his brilliance and versatility made him a very prominent member of our department. Here are the comments of two distinguished mathematicians on Bob:

For me, the presence of Bob at UCLA gave me a tremendous sense of security throughout my career at UCLA. It was because I had studied his thesis and his subsequent work on induced representations well before I came to the States, helped further by his warm and charming personality. I was lucky that his office was not far from mine. We chatted on many many occasions–Masamichi Takesaki, UCLA.

Bob was two years ahead of me in graduate school in Chicago. He was always willing to talk about mathematics and the world in general.  I learned a lot from him then, and later. When Bob was at UCLA and I was at Berkeley, our discussions were more between equals, and we did some work together on geometric quantization–Joseph Wolf, UC Berkeley.

When my wife and I came to Los Angeles in 1965,I had already read some of his work. Bob was among our first friends and he remained so till the end of his life.

Bob’s attitude towards life was one of great intensity and great integrity. He maintained his sense of duty and service to the mathematical community not only during his active service which included being the Chair of our department during 1981—1984 but also for many years after retirement until his illness towards the end of his life made sustained activity an impossibility. From 1990-1994 he was on the statewide UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BoARS) and served as its President (BoARS sets UC admission standards for high school students and for transfers from community colleges). He then spent many years working for the UCLA Emeriti Center, on the board, and as president. He received the Emeriti of the Year award, given by the UCLA Emeriti association, in 2004. He was deeply interested in music, especially modern (Schoenberg, Berg, Boulez, etc), and took an active interest in the LA Opera and LA Philharmonic.

He was one of the people my wife and I had always admired and were fond of. His loss is mourned by many including us, but above all, by his wife Susan, and his three sons from his first marriage, Douglas, Robert, and William, and his six grandchildren from these. The Romanian Mathematical Society dedicated one session of its meeting in June 2015 to his memory. Those who came into contact with him will not forget him.

 V. S. Varadarajan

Distinguished Research Professor

Additional Links:

Tribute by Masamichi Takesaki

Contributions to Hopf algebras by Masuoka

Robert J. Blattner by Victor Guillemin and Shlomo Sternberg

The UCLA Department of Mathematics lost a cherished and distinguished member of its faculty with the passing away on December 19, 2016, of Professor Emeritus Philip C. Curtis Jr. Among his many accomplishments at UCLA, Phil was instrumental in the development of the UCLA California Mathematics Project and played the key role in founding the Department’s Joint Mathematics Education Program, Mathematics Teacher in Residence Program, and MDTP site. 

Please click here to read his obituary.

UCLA mathematics mourns the sudden untimely death of a colleague and friend, Peter Smereka.  Peter was 56 years old and a professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan since 1994.  He received his PhD from UCSB and spent three years at UCLA (1991-1994) as a postdoc, with Stan Osher and Russ Caflisch as his advisors.  Peter worked on a wide variety of problems, ranging from fluid dynamics to materials science, and was considered one of the leading applied and computational mathematicians of his generation. 

Professor Emeritus Lowell J. Paige died on his birthday in Carmichael, Calif., on Dec. 10. He was 91. Paige served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II from 1942 to 1946. He received his PhD in mathematics in 1947 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the supervision of Richard Hubert Bruck. Paige’s research interest was abstract algebra. In 1947 Paige joined the faculty of the UCLA mathematics department, where he served as chair from 1964 to 1968. At that time, the Mathematical Sciences Building was being built. Paige added the 5th-floor Mathematics Department Reading Room to the building plans and rescued the book collection from the old Institute for Numerical Analysis to establish the reading room. Paige launched his university leadership career with his election as vice-chairman of the Academic Senate in 1966, then chairman in 1968.

He served as the dean of the Division of Physical Sciences in the College of Letters and Science from 1968 to 1973. Paige was appointed by President Richard Nixon to be assistant director of the National Science Foundation in 1973, a position he held for two years before returning to the University of California in 1975 to become a special assistant for governmental relations to the president of the UC. Paige retired from UCLA in 1983. From 1983 to 1987, he was Gov. George Deukmejian~Rs assistant adviser for higher education. In 1987 he was appointed to a six-year term on the California Postsecondary Education Commission. During his academic career, Paige spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study and a year at Yale University and held a special Fulbright Award in Australia. Paige published Elements of Linear Algebra in 1961 and the second edition in 1974 with J. Dean Swift. Paige is survived by his wife Betty, sons Michael and Steve, and niece Judy Monaco.

UCLA mourns the passing of Nobel laureate Lloyd Shapley, 92

Shapley, widely considered a father of game theory, was a professor emeritus of economics and mathematics

Lloyd Shapley, a UCLA emeritus professor of economics and mathematics and co-winner of the 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, died on March 12. He was 92 years old.

Shapley was widely considered one of the fathers of game theory. His research focused on both cooperative and non-cooperative game theory, in fields including stochastic games, strategic market games, assignment games, cooperative and non-cooperative market models, voting games and power indices, potential games, cost allocation, and organization theory. His work included the development of the “Shapley value” and the “core.” 

“Professor Shapley was one of the giants of game theory,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “His work in market design laid the foundation for advances in the matching of kidney donors with transplant recipients, in college admissions procedures, and in the assignment of children to public schools. The entire UCLA community joins Professor Shapley’s family in mourning his passing.”

In their 1962 paper, “College admissions and the stability of marriage,” Shapley and mathematician/economist David Gale demonstrated how to match members of two groups — for example, men and women in a “marriage market” — in a way that is stable.

Born in Cambridge, Mass., on June 2, 1923, Shapley was one of five children of Harlow Shapley, a renowned Harvard University astronomer. Lloyd Shapley was studying mathematics at Harvard when World War II broke out. He won a Bronze Star while serving in the Army Air Corps for breaking a Soviet weather code. After the war, he earned degrees at Harvard and Princeton University. 

A chapter of “A Beautiful Mind,” by Sylvia Nasar, biographer of mathematician and Nobel laureate John Nash, who suffered from schizophrenia, is devoted to Shapley, who served as Nash’s mentor and friend. They met as students at Princeton. In fact, Shapley was credited with coming up with the book’s title when he said that Nash had “a keen, beautiful, logical mind.”

After receiving his Ph.D., Shapley worked as a research mathematician at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica. UCLA mathematics professor Tom Ferguson met Shapley in the early 1960s through their mutual interest in Kriegsspiel, a variation of chess where a player only sees his or her pieces on the board, but not an opponent’s. Acting as a referee, a third person provides information about the legality of each move as the game progresses.

Ferguson and others on the faculty at UCLA urged their departments to hire Shapley, who was thinking about leaving RAND. He joined the UCLA faculty in 1981 and has been emeritus since 2001.

Shapley became the sixth UCLA faculty member to be named a Nobel laureate, joining Willard Libby (chemistry, 1960), Julian Schwinger (physics, 1965), Donald Cram (chemistry, 1987), Paul Boyer (chemistry, 1997), and Louis Ignarro (physiology or medicine, 1998). Shapley traveled to Stockholm in 2012 to accept the prize after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington.

In awarding the 2012 economics prize to Shapley and Alvin E. Roth of Harvard, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said, “This year’s Prize concerns a central economic problem: how to match different agents as well as possible. For example, students have to be matched with schools, and donors of human organs with patients in need of a transplant.

“Lloyd Shapley used the so-called cooperative game theory to study and compare different matching methods. A key issue is to ensure that a matching is stable in the sense that two agents cannot be found who would prefer each other over their current counterparts. Shapley and his colleagues derived specific methods – in particular, the so-called Gale-Shapley algorithm – that always ensure a stable matching.”

Ferguson said Shapley’s work is still very much the subject of intense discussion. A conference in 2013 in Istanbul focused on the Shapley value, a concept that Shapley introduced in 1953.

“Lloyd brought honor and prestige to UCLA, and we will be forever grateful,” said Alessandro Duranti, dean of social sciences at UCLA College. “Our economics department is one of the best in the world thanks in part to his contributions and we honor him for his dedication to the field and our university.”

Related Links:

Professor Lloyd Shapley accepts Nobel prize in economics in Stockholm 
UCLA professor wins Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
UCLA’s newest Nobel laureate at the White House

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Professor Emeritus Leo Sario died of a heart attack at his Santa Monica home on August 15, 2009. He was 93. In Finland during World War II, Sario was recognized as an excellent teacher and officer who made key contributions to the defense of the country, all while diligently pursuing his mathematical studies. After the war, Sario received his PhD under Rolf Nevanlinna and helped to establish the National Academy of Finland. Moving to the U.S. in the 1950s, he worked at Princeton, MIT, Stanford and finally UCLA, from which he retired in 1986. Sario created the theory of principal functions and wrote five major books including Riemann Surfaces with Lars Ahlfors, Classification Theory of Riemann Surfaces with M. Nakai, and Principal Functions with Burton Rodin. He also published over 130 research papers and mentored 36 doctoral students.

Professor Jonathan Rogawski passed away on September 27, 2011, after a long battle with cancer. Rogawski was a key figure in the dynamic and central field of automorphic forms. He was 56 and had been ill for nearly a decade.

Rogawski was raised in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles and attended the Palisades public high school. He began his higher education at Yale University from which he received simultaneous BS and MS degrees in 1976. He did his Ph.D. research at Princeton University and received his mathematics Ph.D. in 1980 from that school. His thesis advisor was Robert P. Langlands, author of the visionary Langlands Program which asserts the existence of remarkable connections between the fields of infinite dimensional representation theory, algebraic geometry, number theory, and automorphic forms. After his Ph.D., Rogawski held positions at the SFB at the University of Bonn (1980 – 1981), Yale University (1981 – 1983), the Institute for Advanced Study (1983 – 1984), and the University of Chicago (1984 – 1986). He came to UCLA as an associate professor in 1986 and advanced to full professor in 1989.