Mathematical Digest


Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"René Thom (1923-2002)", an obituary by Ivar Ekeland. Nature, 19 December 2002.

Ekeland repeats the lore that "[Thom's] thesis advisor, back in the early 1950s, was concerned that he could not get Thom to write satisfactory mathematical proofs; another eminent mathematician told the adviser not to worry---there are ten people in the world, he said, who can prove these theorems once they have been stated, but only Thom can state them." Ekeland, who knew Thom, summarizes Thom's achievements, which included devising "catastrophe theory." Thom saw its application to biology (specifically for "morphogenesis"), at a time when it was "not as fashionable for a mathematician to work on this kind of problem as it is now."

--- Annette Emerson