Courant, Richard

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COURANT, RICHARD (1888–1972), German mathematician. Born in Silesia, Courant studied at the universities of Breslau, Zurich, and Goettingen. He remained at Goettingen as an instructor in mathematics until the outbreak of World War i, when he served in the German army. He taught at Muenster from 1919 to 1920 and then returned to Goettingen as professor of mathematics and director of the mathematics institute. Driven from his chair by the Nazi regime in 1933, Courant taught for a year at Cambridge, England. In 1936 he settled in the United States, becoming professor and head of the department of mathematics at New York University, where he remained until his retirement in 1958. In collaboration with David Hilbert, he developed methods of applying the theories of quantum mechanics to the problems of physics, which are credited with later paving the way for the practical use of electronic computers.

During World War ii Courant organized a team of scientific scholars who worked on military projects. After the war he established an institute for mathematics and mechanics at New York University, which developed into one of the largest establishments of its kind in the Western world. In 1958 it was renamed the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and New York University established a Richard Courant Lectureship in his honor. On the occasion of its inauguration, Niels Bohr observed that "every physicist is in his debt for the vast insight he has given us into mathematical methods for comprehending nature and the physical world." On the occasion of his 60th birthday, a volume of Studies and Essays was tendered to him. Courant wrote many scholarly books and papers.

[Sefton D. Temkin]