Person: Thom (2), René
René Thom was a French mathematician who is known for his development of catastrophe theory, a mathematical treatment of continuous action producing a discontinuous result.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- From 1931 Thom attended Primary School in Montbéliard, the town of his birth in which his parents were shopkeepers.
- It was at this primary school that Thom first showed his academic potential winning a scholarship.
- Thom attended the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris and applied to enter the École Normale Supérieure but failed to gain entrance in 1942.
- However, mathematically it was an exciting time for Thom who was to be strongly influenced by Henri Cartan and the Bourbaki approach to mathematics.
- In 1946 Thom graduated from the École Normale Supérieure and then moved to Strasbourg, taking a CNRS research post, so that he could continue to work with Henri Cartan.
- The work of the thesis was carried out in Strasbourg but Thom presented it to Paris.
- The foundations of the theory of cobordism, for which Thom later received a Fields Medal, already appear in his doctoral thesis.
- Thom returned to France and taught at Grenoble in 1953-54, then at Strasbourg from 1954 until 1963.
- It is as the inventor of catastrophe theory that Thom is best known but his earlier work had made him well known before he worked on catastrophe theory.
- His work on topology, in particular on characteristic classes, cobordism theory and the Thom transversality theorem led to his being awarded a Fields medal in 1958.
- These ideas have significantly enriched mathematics, and everything seems to indicate that the impact of Thom's ideas - whether they find their expression in the already known or in forthcoming works - is not exhausted by far.
- Thom's theory is an attempt to describe, in a way that is impossible using differential calculus, those situations in which gradually changing forces lead to so-called catastrophes, or abrupt changes.
- Presented by Thom in Structural Stability and Morphogenesis (1972), the theory has since been developed by many mathematicians.
- Thom was awarded the Grand Prix Scientifique de la Ville de Paris in 1974.
Born 2 September 1923, Montbéliard, Doubs, France. Died 25 October 2002, Bures-sur-Yvette, France.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Prize Fields Medal
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive