◀ ▲ ▶History / 19th-century / Person: Bieberbach, Ludwig Georg Elias Moses
Person: Bieberbach, Ludwig Georg Elias Moses
Ludwig Bieberbach was a German mathematician best known for his conjecture on holomorphic functions. He was an enthusuastic supporter of the Nazis.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Georg Ludwig was the director of the mental hospital in Heppenheim, founded in 1866, and in 1897 his son-in-law Eberhard Bieberbach took over from him as director of the mental hospital.
- Ludwig became interested in mathematics when studying at this Gymnasium, inspired by an excellent mathematics teacher.
- Bieberbach decided to look at the list of announcements of mathematics courses given in different universities which appeared in the Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung and, after studying the possibilities, decided that Hermann Minkowski's course on 'Invariant theory' at the University of Göttingen looked the most attractive.
- Although Göttingen was the leading centre for mathematics at this time, that was not the reason Bieberbach chose to go there, for he was totally unaware of its reputation when he made his decision.
- At Göttingen there was an enthusiastic atmosphere for research which had a great influence on Bieberbach.
- Another strong influence on the direction of Bieberbach's mathematical interests came from Paul Koebe who was only four years older than Bieberbach.
- Koebe, an expert on complex function theory, become a dozent at Göttingen in 1907 and also encouraged Bieberbach towards analysis.
- It was under Klein's direction that Bieberbach researched into automorphic functions for his doctorate which was awarded in 1910 for his thesis Zur Theorie der automorphen Funktionen Ⓣ(On the theory of automorphic functions).
- He was allowed to appoint a young mathematician to assist him, and he asked Bieberbach if he would go to Zürich with him.
- Already Bieberbach had gained a reputation for his contribution to one of Hilbert's problems.
- In 1908, while Bieberbach was Klein's research student, he had been asked by Klein to give lectures on Schönflies's results.
- Soon after he arrived in Zürich, Bieberbach left to go to the University of Königsberg where Schönflies, who was the professor there, had arranged a teaching position for him.
- Answering a question from Hilbert's famous collection certainly gave the young Bieberbach an international reputation.
- Bieberbach was appointed professor of mathematics in Basel in Switzerland in 1913 and gave an inaugural address Über die Grundlagen der modernen Mathematik Ⓣ(On the foundations of modern mathematics) on the foundations of mathematics.
- Schönflies who had been appointed to the first chair of mathematics at Frankfurt am Main in 1914, the year that the university opened, strongly supported Bieberbach for the second chair.
- One has to add that Frobenius had a very close knowledge of Bieberbach's work for he too had studied the first part of Hilbert's eighteenth problem, had simplified Bieberbach's first paper on the topic, and had produced ideas which had led Bieberbach to further results.
- Prior to his appointment, in 1914 Bieberbach had studied the polynomials that are now named after him, which approximate a function that conformally maps a given simply-connected domain onto a disc.
- It was while Bieberbach was at Frankfurt that he produced the Bieberbach Conjecture for which he is best known today.
- When Loewner did this Bieberbach told him he had joined the "realm of the immortals".
- Certainly around the time he made his conjecture, there is considerable evidence that Bieberbach was not greatly liked as a person since he thought so highly of himself.
- On 2 January 1921 Bieberbach accepted the Berlin professorship, delighted to hold a chair held by Frobenius for many years.
- After this appointment Bieberbach's research contribution was somewhat reduced, with perhaps his most significant being joint work with Issai Schur, published in 1928, Über die Minkowskische Reduktiontheorie der positiven quadratischen Formen Ⓣ(On the Minkowski reduction theory of positive quadratic forms).
- The conversion of Bieberbach to the Nazi cause seems to have been quite sudden.
- Bieberbach, together with his four sons, showed their support for the Nazi cause by taking part in an SA march from Potsdam to Berlin.
- By November 1933, when he acted as one of Walter Ledermann's examiners, Bieberbach was wearing Nazi uniform when conducting the examination.
- Bieberbach developed the notion of a 'German' synthetic style mathematics as opposed to the abstract 'Jewish' analytic style.
- By this time Bieberbach was strongly in favour of such actions against Jewish mathematicians.
- Bieberbach was managing editor of the Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung in 1934 and he published an "open letter" in the journal which was highly critical of Harald Bohr because he had attacked Bieberbach's racist views.
- Since the letter had been published by Bieberbach without him having obtained approval from the other editors, the Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung was critical of his actions and Bieberbach was forced to resign his editorial position.
- Helmut Grunsky, who was a doctoral student of Bieberbach's in 1932, became editor of the Jahrbuchs über die Fortschritte der Mathematik Ⓣ(Yearbook on the progress of mathematics) in the mid-1930s.
- He resisted pressure put on him by Bieberbach not to use Jewish referees.
- Bieberbach wrote many papers expressing his racist views.
- Many mathematicians feel that Bieberbach could not have honestly held the views he did, rather the feeling is that he was ambitious to become the leader of German mathematics and followed a route which he thought would make him successful in this.
- In this perspective, Bieberbach's sudden conversion to Nazism appears as the attempt to replay the old battle, taking advantage of the new distribution of power in Germany.
- Many were critical of Ostrowski for making this invitation to Bieberbach.
- Perhaps there is an irony in the fact that de Branges became the first winner of the Ostrowski Prize for solving the Bieberbach conjecture.
- In 1951 Bieberbach and Friedrich Wilhelm Levi were on a list to fill the second chair in Berlin.
- Both were in their 60s but had very different wartime experiences, Levi having been dismissed from the University of Leipzig in 1935 because he was Jewish, and Bieberbach having been the leading Nazi mathematician.
- All these works went through several editions in which Bieberbach added further material.
Born 4 December 1886, Goddelau, Darmstadt in Hessen, Germany. Died 1 September 1982, Oberaudorf in Oberbayern, Germany.
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Tags relevant for this person:
Origin Germany, Number Theory, Special Numbers And Numerals
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive