Person: Lima, Elon
Elon Lima was a Brazilian mathematician who is famed as the most famous mathematics textbook writer in the Portuguese language. He also made important research contributions in topology and was a major contributor to the Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium between 1961 and 1983.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Elon was brought up in Maceió, a coastal city and capital of the State of Alagoas.
- Elon played ball, swam, and played button football while Manfredo drew.
- At the Colégio Batista Alagoano, Elon was taught mathematics by Benedito de Morais who, according to Elon, was never a great mathematician but was an exceptional teacher.
- Lima spent two years at the Colégio Estadual in Maceió, where he took the scientific course together with his friend Manfredo do Carmo.
- The physics teacher kept making mistakes and Lima always corrected him.
- The physics teacher was not pleased at being corrected by a pupil and told Lima to leave the Escola de Cadetes as soon as possible.
- Ari de Sá Cavalcante, who taught Lima at the Escola de Cadetes, had taken over the management of Ginásio Farias Brito, in Fortaleza, in 1941, where he was also a teacher.
- He was delighted to have Lima teach at the Ginásio Farias Brito and within two months of leaving the Escola de Cadetes, he was teaching Mathematics, Science, Geography, Portuguese and other subjects there.
- Soon after he arrived at the Ginásio Farias Brito, however, the mathematics teacher left and Ari de Sá Cavalcante invited Lima to become the mathematics teacher.
- Lima realised that if he was to be a mathematics teacher he should learn more about the topic.
- Lima thought that the fact that he had not finished high school would prevent him from entering the competition but it did not.
- This, Lima said, was very poor but every vacation he returned to his home town of Maceió and there became part of a little group.
- In Maceió, Lima met Newton Braga, a physicist who was studying at the Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas (CBPF) in Rio de Janeiro but also returned to Maceió at the vacations.
- Newton Braga encouraged Lima to apply for a scholarship from CNPq which was successful.
- Lima was awarded a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from the University of Brazil in December 1953.
- Both Peixoto and Nachbin had studied for their doctorate at the University of Chicago and they suggested that Lima should study there for his doctorate.
- They wrote to Irving Kaplansky who quickly agreed to accept Lima.
- Harry Miller Jr, the director of the Rockefeller Foundation, was at the CBPF and Nachbin recommended Lima for a scholarship.
- Lima arrived in Chicago thinking he would undertake research for his doctorate in Functional Analysis, Nachbin's speciality.
- In May 1955 Lima took both a written and an oral examination in five subjects for his Master's Degree and was then able to continue to study for his Ph.D. The Rockefeller Foundation grant only funded him for two years, then he was able to obtain a CNPq grant for the rest of his studies at Chicago.
- After realising that functional analysis was not a good topic for his Ph.D. in Chicago, Lima began studying algebraic topology.
- While studying for his Master's Degree, he read the mimeographed notes taken by students who had attended a course given by Edwin Spanier and then Lima undertook research advised by Spanier.
- In his thesis Lima introduced the notion of the spectrum of topological space which generalises cohomology theory.
- Back at the IMPA in Rio de Janeiro, Lima was an assistant researcher paid through a scholarship.
- We mentioned above Lima's original intention to have a literary career.
- Lima was the organiser of the Colloquium and delivered the course Topologia Diferencial Ⓣ(Differential topology).
- In the 1960s, Lima spent time at different institutions in the United States.
- Lima's American colleagues could not understand why he decided to return to Brazil when he had offers of positions in the United States.
- Lima's invitation had come from Zeferino Vaz, the rector of the University of Brasília, who said Lima had been recommended to him by Nachbin and several others.
- Lima was honoured to have received the invitation and, rather reluctantly because of uncertainty over the military coup, accepted the offer leaving the United States in August 1964 to take up his new position.
- The director of the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Brasília was Nachbin, but since he did not come to the Institute, Lima was effectively the director.
- Nachbin was recognised as the outstanding mathematician at the IMPA but Lima and others were not happy with the direction he was taking it.
- In an attempt to improve the tense situation, Lima accepted an invitation from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro spending the first half of 1969 there.
- Lima was then invited back to the IMPA as director and he accepted.
- Although Lima made some deep and important research contributions, his greatest achievement was as an author of textbooks.
- It is worth naming some of these books: in the Projecto Euclides collection, the two-volume Analysis Course (the first one already has eleven editions) and the text on Metric Spaces; and, in the Matemática Universitaria collection, the Linear Algebra manual, where, through its exquisite exposition and original perspective, Elon manages to breathe new life into a subject that the profusion of textbooks has trivialised to the point of irrelevance.
- To fulfil his vocation as a writer, Elon has written assiduously, always about mathematics.
- The above quote details the two Jabuti Prizes that Lima was awarded.
- Lima died of pneumonia and at his funeral a mass was celebrated by Paul Schweitzer, a mathematician who received his doctorate from Princeton in 1962 and eight years later became a priest.
- Lima was buried at the Cemitério da Penitência, in Caju, Rio de Janeiro.
Born 9 July 1929, Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil. Died 7 May 2017, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
View full biography at [MacTutor](https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Lima/
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive