Person: Lax (2), Anneli
Anneli Lax was a Polish-born American mathematician who was important for her contributions to mathematical education and mathematical publishing.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Despite the seemingly interminable interruptions, Anneli had key experiences with mathematics during her high school years that influenced her long thereafter.
- Despite her dissatisfaction with algebra, Anneli came out of high school 'fascinated with mathematics.' She obeyed the wise words of her dear teacher Miss Eaton and went on to obtain a bachelors degree from Adelphi University in 1942.
- It was here, while a postgraduate in her twenties, that Anneli met Peter Lax.
- Events followed rapidly on their marriage: in 1949 Peter completed his Ph.D. and joined the faculty at New York; in 1950 and 1954 Anneli gave birth to two sons (John and James); in 1955 she finally received her own PhD completed under the supervision of Richard Courant.
- While Anneli continued her affiliation with New York, her professional centre of gravity shifted from research and graduate studies to the undergraduate programme at New York's Washington Square College, where she was awarded tenure in 1961.
- Perhaps, during her long association with various projects at the Courant Institute, Anneli never fully experienced the sense of independent achievement that boosts self-confidence and gives momentum to research.
- Despite her considerable early promise, Anneli gradually drifted away from research.
- Anneli and Peter created a memorial in the form of an annual lecture which is given by a historian of the highest distinction to commemorate the work and spirit of John Lax.
- Following the death of her eldest son, Anneli kept herself busy, working mainly as an editor and educator for the next ten years before retiring in 1992.
- After retirement Anneli took time to appreciate nature.
- After just over a year of battling with cancer Anneli Lax died at her home in New York City.
- We will now look more closely at some of Lax's achievements.
- Courant noticed Lax's editorial ability at a period during the 1950's when people who could carry out such 'mathematical copy-editing' were few and far-between.
- Lax's gift for language had showed early in her career, and, among other projects, she helped translate into English Courant and Hilbert's Methods of Mathematical Physics.
- It was at this point that Lax realised the major contribution that could be made in mathematics education.
- Lax was at the centre of the MAA's publication program for thirty-three years, overseeing the NML series.
- Lax was a skilled editor and strove to bring out the best work of the mathematicians who wrote for the series.
- Anneli seemed determined to do something about this.
- Around 1960 Anneli approached me about contributing a volume for an upcoming series called The New Mathematical Library that she was editing and that was designed to overcome this reluctance to write mathematical texts for students.
- Anneli wrote and fine-tuned the manuscript.
- In the end I'm sure Anneli would have been pleased with the final result: a fine introduction to the geometry of numbers ...
- The Anneli Lax New Mathematical Library is a continuing legacy and should encourage those mathematicians to write and publish such work ...
- Niven was approached by Lax in the early 1970's to write a book for the NML.
- In 1995, the MAA awarded Lax its highest honour: the Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr Charles Y Hu Award for Distinguished Service.
- Lax was involved in countless activities.
- Many of Lax's admirers thought the NML should be re-titled 'ANML,' Anneli's New Mathematical Library, because of her care in developing and sustaining the series.
- As well as being an editor, Lax's passion for communicating mathematics to the wider community inspired her involvement in mathematics education.
- Lax became involved in mathematical education while she was working on her thesis with Courant.
- As a Ph.D. sudent, Lax was required to teach small group tutorials.
- Much praise has been offered for Lax's unique contribution to education.
- One such admirer was Joanne V Creighton, president of Mount Holyoke College where Lax taught in the late 1940's.
- This 'interplay' that has been referred to became the focus of Lax's attention.
- Lax found that incoming groups of New York Universiy freshmen sometimes found difficulty in learning mathematics, as they claimed the 'language' used often puzzled them.
- Lax designed, and helped teach, a course in mathematics and writing (called 'Language Linked Approaches to Mathematics') for which students obtained double credit.
- This proved successful, however Lax was determined to follow this so-called 'interplay problem' to its very roots in high schools.
- Together they were able to get funding from the Ford Foundation to train teachers from these schools in the methods Lax had pioneered at New York.
- Anneli ran these sessions like a professional mathematical psychoanalyst (!) Using her remarkable flair she was able to get the English teachers to lose their fear of introducing mathematical terms, concepts and procedures into their English classes.
- This work led Lax further into the issues behind teaching and learning, and she soon found herself tutoring students in these inner-city high schools, using her experience to understand how people outside the mathematical community think about the subject.
- Although she was capable in much higher realms of maths, Anneli would always begin where the student was.
- Lax scrutinised mathematical terms that could cause confusion amongst mathematics students and thereby started mathematics teachers thinking about their approach to teaching such a 'language.' She worked to make mathematics teachers in schools in inner-city New York aware of such confusion experienced by students and that thinking was behind the design of her 'Language Linked Approaches to Mathematics' course.
- This combined course of expository writing and mathematical thinking was so successful that with the Ford Foundation support, Lax expanded the curriculum into several junior and senior high schools in New York City.
- Some of those who knew her as a mentor and friend have been interviewed (either personally or via email) to gain a fuller picture of Lax.
- Elena Marchisotto, California State University, Northridge, remembers Lax as her supervisor, but more importantly as her friend and mentor.
- Marchisotto first met Lax while studying for her Ph.D. at New York University in the 1980's.
- Lax agreed to be Marchisotto's thesis supervisor and Marchisotto feels she benefited greatly from Lax's interest in her work and felt encouraged by her stimulating conversation.
- Lax's view on mathematics deeply influenced Marchisotto's approach to the subject, particularly in the areas of analysis and geometry.
- One evening Anneli suggested we go to pick some berries.
- Anneli, however, drove us deep into the woods, walked with us down bug-infested paths to berry bushes.
- Another one of Lax's former graduate students at the Courant Institute in 1986, was Eileen Fernandez.
- She met Lax at a very exciting time in her life.
- She had just received a grant from the Ford Foundation for the project entitled 'Language Linked Approaches to Mathematics.' Lax was looking for a graduate student to work on the project and Fernandez describes herself as fortunate to have obtained such a position.
- Anneli was quite eager to initiate conversation with the faculty of HBCU's, to exchange information and views on mathematics education, and to enhance understanding all around of the problems confronting the faculty in engaging their students in mathematics.
- Powell, a researcher in American education at New York also worked with Lax in the 1950's.
- Lax seems to have had an obvious eagerness to puzzle over new ideas and problematic issues.
- From this research much of Lax's persona is revealed.
- Anneli quickly let me know that she had no use for that.
- Anneli loved to hear others' ideas, particularly when they differed from her own.
Born 23 February 1922, Katowice, Poland. Died 24 September 1999, New York City, New York, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Origin Poland, Women
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive