I thought I might close this series with someone from Texas (the state in which I live). Lawrence Williams graduated high school in Livingston, TX and obtained his B.S degree in Math (physics minor) in 1969 from Texas Southern University . His Ph.D. was obtained at the University of Michigan, specializing in operator theory. His disseratation was “On Quasisimilarity of Operators on Hilbert Space”. You can read more about his background and publication list here.
I found his story to be particularly inspiring. Following is an excerpt from his MAA Biography.
“Lawrence Ray Williams attended public school at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Livingston, Texas. He graduated from high school in 1965 and then matriculated at Texas Southern University. There he encountered many role models who gave him support and confidence. Williams had never heard of a graduate degree when he started attending Texas Southern. But thanks to these mentors, he was made aware of graduate study and encouraged to attend graduate school. Among his most influential mathematics professors at Texas Southern University were Dr. Llayron Clarkson and Professors Alvin Wardlaw, Herman Jenkins and Robinson J. Parsons. He was also greatly influenced by Dr. Duvvury A.A.S. Narayana Rao, Professor and Head of the Physics Department. Williams spent countless hours in Dr. Rao’s physics laboratory conducting cutting-edge research in physics.
A high point of Williams’ undergraduate years occurred during his sophomore year when he spent one semester at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, as a participant in an exchange program. He took fifteen hours of courses in mathematics, chemistry and physics during that semester and received a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Having attended a segregated high school and a predominantly black university, Williams gained confidence from this experience that he could compete with any students. Moreover the bitterly cold winter in Wisconsin was a different experience in itself because he was accustomed to mild Texas winters. Williams received his bachelor’s degree with a major in mathematics and a minor in physics from Texas Southern in 1969.
After completing his undergraduate work, Williams was drafted into the United States Army. He began his graduate studies at the University of Michigan in 1971 after spending two years in the army. He received a master’s degree from Michigan in 1972 and a Ph.D. in 1976, both in mathematics. At Michigan, Williams wrote his Ph.D. dissertation in the area of operator theory under the direction of Dr. Carl M. Pearcy.”
Give a good person good inspiration and great things can happen. I hope this series serves to inspire great black mathematicians of future generations.
Few accomplishments in academia top Wilfrid Gangbo’s move from Ph.D. to full professor in nine years. Born in Benin, he earned his Ph.D. from the Swiss Federale Institute of Technology. Dr. Gangbo is currently a professor at Georgia Tech.
Dr. Gangbo is also the founder of the EcoAfrica project, an association of scientists involved in projects supporting African countries. The EcoAfrica project was founded in 1990 in Switzerland and has organized several workshops in applied mathematics.
I was familiar with Dr. Richards’ work from past web searches and from his talks on Genetic Algorithms in optimimization. Dr. Richards obtained his undergraduate degree in mathematics from the Univ. of the West Indies and obtained his Ph.D. two years later in 1978. That’s a pretty incredible achievement.
The field of mathematical Biology is concerned with the application of mathematics to the solution of numerous problems in the biological sciences. One of many areas impacted by this reserch is improving the effectiveness of cancer chemotherapy. A noted researcher in this field is Dr. Trachette Jackson.
She obtained her undergraduate degree in math from Arizona State Univ. in Tempe. Her Ph.D. was in mathematical Biology. Five short years after obtaining that degree, she had a Sloan Fellowship and ten published articles.
If you have watched any of the shows on the History or Discovery Channel on the history of physics, you probably know that one of the latest trends in theoretical physics is string theory. In RIA terms, we might call string theory a mashup of quantum theory and general relativity. The mathematics involved in string theory are quite advanced and an important researcher in this field is Dr. Clifford Johnson.
Dr. Johnson was born in London and obtained his undergraduate degree from the Imperial College of London. He obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from Southampton University and did his post-doc work at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.
He is currently on the faculty of USC in the dept. of Physics and Astronomy. For more information on Dr. Johnson, check out this page which includes a list of publications.
Dr. Wilkins showed promise at an early age, entering the University of Chicago at the age of 13. At the age of 19, in 1942, he became only the seventh African-American to obtain a Ph.D. in mathematics from that university. His parents were equally successful, his father being appointed assistant secretary of Labor from 1954 – 1958. Here is an excerpt from a TIME Magazine article, August 30, 1954.
“Chicago Lawyer J. Ernest Wilkins (Sr), son of a Missouri Baptist preacher, is the only Negro ever to attain the title of assistant secretary in the Federal Government. He attained it last March, when President Eisenhower appointed him Assistant Secretary of Labor for International Affairs. Last week, with Secretary James Mitchell and Under Secretary Arthur Larson out of town on speechmaking trips, brainy Ernest Wilkins, 60, became the first Negro ever to attend a White House Cabinet meeting as the representative of a department. He was appointed to the 1958 Civil Rights Commission.”
Born in 1965, Katherine Abedola Okikolu attended Cambridge and did her doctoral work at UCLA. Math ran in her family as her father was a mathematician and inventor and her mother was a high school math teacher.
In 1997, she won the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, and in that same year became the first black winner of a Sloan Research Fellowship.
Last year in February, I posted some links to famous black mathematicians to highlight their significant contributions to the history of mathematics. This year, I’ll try to highlight some specific individuals. This series starts with David Blackwell, born in 1919 in Illinois.
I devoted a lot of time to Operations Research in the 1990′s. Blackwell’s name really shoots to the top of my memory as he won the von Neumann Theory Prize in 1979 for his work in Markov decision processes. He is also author of the book, ‘Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions’
You can read more about Dr. Blackwell here.