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André Weil--Life and Work

André Weil--Life and Work


André Weil, one of the 20th century's greatest mathematicians and especially known for his work in number theory and algebraic geometry, died Thursday morning, August 6, at his home. He was a Professor Emeritus in the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study, where he was appointed to the Faculty in 1958.


"André Weil is a legend in mathematics," said the Director of the Institute, Phillip A. Griffiths, a mathematician himself. "Through his own path-breaking original research, his strongly-held views of what mathematics should be, and his written work, no one in this century has had more influence on the field."

In the 1930s Weil was a founder of Bourbaki, a group of French mathematicians who wrote a highly influential multi-volume series of treatises that organized and unified mathematical knowledge. The work, Elements de Mathematique, offered, for the first time, a survey of the leading work in practically every field of mathematics.

In 1994 Professor Weil received the Kyoto Prize in Basic Science from the Inamori Foundation of Kyoto, Japan, an award that is frequently referred to as Japan's Nobel Prize. The award citation noted that Weil, who was recognized for his lifetime achievement in mathematics, "altered the very course of 20th century thought in mathematics. His so-called Weil Conjectures have provided the guiding principles for algebraic geometry, which, in turn, have given rise to the accurate and efficient transmission of information through coding theory. Today, Dr. Weil's work continues to play extremely important roles in fields ranging from elementary particle physics to encryption and computer security."

Born in 1906 in Paris, Weil had become "passionately addicted" to mathematics by his early teens. He graduated from the University of Paris in 1928; his Ph.D. thesis solved a 25-year-old problem about elliptic curves posed by Henri Poincaré. In 1930, an interest in Indian culture led him to accept a position in India, where he taught for two years at Aligarh University. He returned to France to become a Professor of Mathematics first at Marseille University and subsequently at Strasbourg University, where he taught from 1933-1940.

During the war, Weil left France for Finland to avoid the draft, feeling that "as a soldier I would be entirely useless, but as a mathematician I could be of some use." The Finns turned him over to the French authorities, who imprisoned him for six months. While in prison Weil created his theorem on the Riemann hypothesis, described as "a jewel of modern number theory" and one of his greatest mathematical proofs. He was released in exchange for agreeing to join the French army. After the War Weil came to the United States, where he held academic positions at Haverford College and the University of Chicago, in addition to spending two years in Brazil at the University of Sao Paulo.

Professor Weil officially retired in 1976, becoming Professor Emeritus, but for many years continued to work daily in his office at the Institute, writing on the history of mathematics and helping to edit the works of two previous French giants, Jacques Bernoulli and Pierre de Fermat. Professor Weil's wife, Eveline, died in 1986. He is survived by two daughters, Nicolette Schwartzman of Princeton and Sylvie Weil Weitzner of Manhattan, and three grandchildren. His younger sister, the philosopher and political activist Simone Weil, died in England in 1943.


This information was provided by the Institute for Advanced Study.