Person: Cotlar, Mischa
Mischa Cotlar was a Uruguayan mathematician who worked in the fields of harmonic analysis, ergodic theory and spectral theory.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Ovsey Cotlar ran a flour mill, but was more famous as an outstanding chess player.
- Chess was not Ovsey Cotlar's only passion, however, for he was also deeply interested in mathematics and music.
- Mischa was only 15 at this time and had only had one year of formal education.
- Sasha worked on the tramway while Mischa played the piano from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. in a harbour bar.
- The first possession that Ovsey bought was a piano for Mischa.
- He invited Cotlar to join a mathematical group that met in his home.
- Before leaving the Ukraine, Cotlar had studied Dmitry Grave's number theory book and solved some of the open problems in the book.
- Although Cotlar had solved some open problems, other mathematicians had solved them too and published the results but, of course, Cotlar had no way of knowing this.
- After a short while, Mischa told Cora that he missed playing the piano very much.
- Cora immediately invited him to play at her home and, after a long argument, convinced Mischa to accept the offer.
- Mischa, in his desire not to intrude, sat on the very edge of the piano stool, and we were always worried about the stability of the system and imagined the pianist rolling on the floor! Little by little, Mischa carved his place in Buenos Aires.
- In 1937 Cotlar met Yanny Frenkel, a Ph.D. student of Rey Pastor, who was born in Melitopol, Russia on 21 May 1909.
- Cotlar, with no formal qualifications, could not obtain an official teaching position.
- Although he was 64 years old at this time, he was able to continue research and administration for a further 20 years and became one of Cotlar's friends and collaborators.
- Equally important was the fact that Cotlar published nine papers in Mathematicae Notae, a journal founded by Beppo Levi.
- The other significant person that Cotlar met was Rodolfo A Ricabarra (1925-1984); they became firm friends and published seven joint papers, the first being published in 1949.
- In 1945 Cotlar was appointed as a research instructor at the Universidad National de La Plata when the engineer A Martínez Civelli was rector, but six months later a new rector was appointed and Cotlar was quickly dismissed.
- George D Birkhoff visited Buenos Aires in 1942 and immediately saw what a talented mathematician Cotlar was and said he would recommend him for a Guggenheim Fellowship.
- He discovered two exceptional students, Mischa Cotlar and Alberto Calderón, and arranged for Calderón to study at Chicago for a Ph.D. advised by him.
- Cotlar was recommended for a Guggenheim Fellowship by Garrett Birkhoff, which he won in 1950.
- On 24 January 1951 Mischa and Yanny Cotlar flew from Buenos Aires to New York.
- They spent six months at Yale University, where Mischa studied ergodic theory with Shizuo Kakutani.
- Marshall Stone had agreed that, despite Cotlar having no formal qualifications, the University of Chicago would accept him onto a Ph.D. course.
- And the only requirements to join the DIC were professional! The appointment of Mischa as Director of DIC was a "bomb" in our small circle, The job of director or chairman entails bureaucratic chores; it is necessary to deal with files and budgets; but, worst of all, it requires wearing a tie for official ceremonies! Who could imagine Mischa in such a garb?
- In fact, when the university situation changed dramatically in 1956, Mischa and his collaborators were asked to join university faculties all over the country.
- After DIC was closed, Cotlar was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the School of Sciences of the Universidad de Buenos Aires in 1957.
- Cotlar resigned, along with 400 other academics, and after a short stay in Montevideo, was appointed to Rutgers University in the United States in 1967.
- Cotlar was appointed as professor at the Universidad de la Plata, where his friend and colleague Rodolfo Ricabarra also joined the faculty.
- Cotlar left and was appointed to the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.
- The influence of Mischa is reflected in the attitude and work capacity of this group, which is beginning to be recognized beyond our borders.
- The Seminar has remained open to mathematicians from other areas who find a platform to discuss their ideas and find in Mischa a mathematician of extraordinary qualities and a man of friendly character.
- Mischa is, undoubtedly, the mathematician with the longest and most prestigious career among those who have worked permanently in Venezuela, and those of us who have the privilege of knowing him, we also know that he adds to his quality as a scientist a deeply modest and sincere personality.
- Although Mischa was part of the Zygmund school, he had an astonishing intellectual affinity with the Ukrainian school of Mathematics lead by Professors Krein and Gohberg, the leaders of the extraordinarily original and fertile school of operator theory.
- When Mischa and Yanny decided to return to Buenos Aires, Mischa still kept sending me scores of hand-written manuscripts with new ideas that we needed to develop.
- Cotlar was elected to the National Academy of Exact Sciences of Argentina in 1988.
- Alberto Calderón gave a speech introducing Cotlar to the Academy.
- Throughout his life Cotlar argued passionately for peace in the world and tried to encourage other scientists to join in his mission for peace.
- However, along with many other pacifists, Mischa could not find a practical way to reconcile his absolute philosophical conviction about the wrongness of killing with the realities of war and peace.
- Mischa settled in Buenos Aires when Yanny's mental health deteriorated.
- In spite of his growing physical weakness, Mischa still tried to mobilize the international mathematical community for the creation of a new movement for the ethical responsibility of scientists.
- Mischa was an extraordinary person.
Born 1 August 1913, Sarny, Ukraine. Died 16 January 2007, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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