Person: Zeeman, Erik Christopher
Chris Zeeman was a British mathematician known for his work in geometric topology and singularity theory. He was responsible for founding the mathematics department at Warwick University.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Zeeman was educated at Christ's Hospital School in Horsham, West Sussex, England which he did not enjoy, feeling that it was a prison in which he lost his self-esteem.
- Zeeman's university studies were at Christ's College Cambridge and at first he had to contend with the fact that he had forgotten much of his school mathematics while serving in the Royal Air Force.
- Zeeman was then awarded a fellowship by Gonville and Cais College Cambridge in 1953.
- During 1962-63 Zeeman was a member of the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques.
- This was largely due to Zeeman's remarkable leadership.
- Zeeman's style of leadership at Warwick was a very informal one.
- From 1964 Zeeman remained at Warwick until 1988, although he did spend 1966-67 as a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
- In 1988 Zeeman left Warwick, although he was made an honorary professor there on leaving.
- Zeeman has held important roles within UK mathematics.
- Zeeman's research has been in a variety of areas such as topology, in particular PL topology, dynamical systems and mathematical applications to biology and the social sciences.
- Perhaps he is best known for his work on catastrophe theory for, although this theory was due initially to René Thom, it was Zeeman who brought it before the general public giving widespread publicity to applications of what was before that time thought of as pure mathematics.
- In particular Zeeman pioneered the applications of catastrophe theory in the biological and behavioural sciences, as well as the physical sciences.
- He invented the Zeeman Catastrophe machine which was a mechanical device to illustrate how a small perturbation can give rise to a discontinuous consequence.
- Among the books which Zeeman has published are the texts Catastrophe theory (1977), Geometry and perspective (1987) and Gyroscopes and boomerangs (1989).
- A shorter introduction to catastrophe theory than his 1977 book was given by Zeeman in his beautifully written survey article Bifurcation and catastrophe theory [Contemp.
- Zeeman was knighted in 1991 and he has received many honours in addition to those mentioned above.
- He leapt out of his office to greet the new postgraduates with "Hi, I'm Chris".
- Chris Zeeman gave the mathematics lectures and explained to an audience, most of whom had no more than a low level school mathematics qualification, knotting and unknotting spheres in high dimensions.
- He delivered the 1978 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on BBC television - the first time in the 150-year history of these lectures, founded by Michael Faraday, that the topic was mathematics.
- These lectures led Sir Christopher to start the Royal Institution Mathematics Masterclasses for talented young people.
- On 24 April 2007 Zeeman delivered his David Crighton Award lecture What's wrong with Euclid Book V to an audience at the Royal Statistical Society.
- Naming the award for Zeeman was particularly appropriate for a number of reasons: he was first mathematician to deliver the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures; and his 'Mathematics into Pictures' series is recognised as significantly influencing to young mathematicians.
- The first award was made in 2008 when Zeeman presented the Christopher Zeeman Medal to Professor Ian Stewart, FRS.
Born 4 February 1925, Yokohama, Japan. Died 13 February 2016, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Ancient Babylonian, Ancient Greek, Origin Japan, Topology
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive