Bott, Raoul 1923–2005

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Bott, Raoul 1923–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born September 24, 1923, in Budapest, Hungary; died of lung cancer, December 20, 2005, in Carlsbad, CA. Mathematician, educator, and author. A retired Harvard University professor, Bott made several important contributions to mathematics, including the Bott periodicity theorem and the Atiyah-Bott fixed-point theorem. Born in Hungary, he immigrated to Canada as a young man to study engineering at McGill University. Here he earned his bachelor's degree in 1945, followed by a master's degree the next year. He then switched from engineering to mathematics, completing a doctorate at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949. Bott decided to remain in the United States, where he became a citizen in 1959. During the 1950s, he taught at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and at the University of Michigan. He then joined the Harvard faculty in 1959 as a professor and was named William Casper Graustein Professor of Mathematics in 1969 and Higgins Professor from 1974 to 1977. Bott remained at Harvard until 1999, when he retired as the Graustein research professor. Much of the research and many of the theorems Bott produced over the years are considered highly valuable contributions to mathematics. Most notably, his periodicity theorem, developed in 1959, has many applications to geometry as well as to string theory in physics. It is used to simplify descriptions of movements and shapes in space, and some consider it a discovery that rivals that of the periodic chart of the elements in chemistry. Along with Michael Atiyah, Bott came up with the Atiyah-Bott theorem that is used in the discipline of topology, and he also contributed important work in the area of differential equations and produced findings that are relevant the study of quantum theory and relativity. Many of his accomplishments are recorded in his four-volume Collected Papers (1993–95). Because of his many significant contributions, Bott was honored with numerous prizes and awards over the years, including the 1987 National Science Medal, the 1990 Leroy P. Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the American Mathematical Society, the 1997 Wolf Prize in Mathematics from Israel.

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New York Times, January 8, 2006, p. A22.