Person: Boas, Ralph
Ralph Boas was an American mathematician and journal editor. He worked mainly in real and complex analysis.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Boas was educated at home up to the age of eight when his parents decided that he should begin his schooling.
- Although both his parents were excellent writers and teachers, Boas claims that neither of them taught him "to write effectively." Since good teaching is often the encouragement and assistance to learn, this may explain how he became an excellent writer without feeling he was being taught.
- Boas attended High School in South Hadley where the headmaster was an enthusiast for mathematics.
- He put on a special course in solid geometry after school hours for Boas and one other student.
- However, mathematics was not the subject in which Boas was most interested at this time.
- Boas had such a wide range of interests that he had deliberately chosen Harvard as giving him the largest number of options.
- Widder set Boas the task of gathering different proofs of the fundamental theorem of algebra and he eventually collected over thirty.
- After the award of his Ph.D., Boas spent a year in Princeton financed by a National Research Fellowship.
- When Ralph arrived, he soon joined in the usual occupations of our crowd: talking about mathematics, current affairs, or anything else; walking in the countryside, going to the movies, listening to music (and to the radio news at times of crisis), playing "ping-pong" (our game could hardly be dignified as "table tennis"), taking part in play-readings.
- Boas and Smithies undertook joint research and together published the paper On the Characterization of a Distribution Function by Its Fourier Transform (1938).
- There were two further important outcomes of Boas' friendship with Smithies.
- Boas and Smithies decided to write these down in a paper and added some more of their own.
- Boas and Smithies sent the 'Big Game Hunting' paper to the Monthly under the name E S Pondiczery but asked that it be published under the name H Pétard.
- Returning to the United States, in the autumn of 1939 Boas took up an Instructorship in Mathematics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
- After a few months the Navy decided they did not want non-military teachers at the Pre-Flight School and Boas was recruited to teach in the military training program at Harvard.
- While working for the military, Boas was not allowed to publish papers.
- For many mathematicians, Boas is best known as a writer of outstanding books.
- He was slight and agile; he jumped up on desks with balletic flair; and in the days when he was a member of the Otto Neugebauer group at Brown University he was nicknamed "The Squirrel." Many remember Ralph walking down Garden Street, green bookbag over his shoulder, on the way to Harvard Square, South Station, and Providence through sun, rain and snow.
- Among the awards that Boas received we mention the 1970 Lester R Ford Award from the Mathematical Association of America for his paper Inequalities for the derivatives of polynomials (1969) and the 1978 Lester R Ford Award for his paper Partial sums of infinite series, and how they grow (1977).
- Boas was editor of the American Mathematical Monthly from 1976 to 1981 and, in 1993 he was invited to San Antonio for the Centenary Celebrations of the Monthly.
Born 8 August 1912, Walla Walla, Washington, USA. Died 25 July 1992, Seattle, Washington, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive