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Three Former NIST Mathematicians Honored

September 2002

Photo of John ToddPhoto of Olga Taussky-ToddPhoto of Burton H. Colvin
John Todd (left), Olga Taussky-Todd (center), and Burton H. Colvin (right)

Three former NIST mathematicians were honored recently with the installation of their portraits in the NIST Gallery of Distinguished Scientists, Engineers and Administrators on the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland in ceremonies on September 5, 2002. The honorees were Burton H. Colvin, Olga Taussky-Todd, and John Todd.

Burt H. Colvin was recognized for his outstanding management of the applied mathematics program at NBS. Colvin was born in 1916 in West Warwick, RI, and studied mathematics at Brown University and at the University of Wisconsin, where he received a Ph.D. in 1943. He spent 21 years at Boeing, heading its the Mathematics and Information Sciences Research Laboratories from 1959-1972. He then came to NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards) to head its Applied Mathematics Division. In 1978 Colvin was named head of the NBS Center for Applied Mathematics, a position he held until 1986. During his tenure, Colvin raised the level of theoretical modeling at NBS by fostering collaborations between applied mathematicians and other NBS technical units. During his career, Colvin held many distinguished appointments, including President of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (1971-72), Chair of the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences (1975-76), and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was recipient of the Department of Commerce Silver (1978) and Gold (1981) medals for "consistently outstanding management of the applied mathematics program" at NBS, and he received a Presidential Meritorious Rank Award in 1980. Colvin headed the NIST Office of Academic Affairs from 1986 until his retirement in 1991. He passed away on August 24, 2001 in Gaithersburg, MD.

Photo of Ron Boisvert, Mary Gottlieb, and Dan ColvinPhoto of John Todd and Fern Hunt
Photos from the portrait unveiling at NIST. On the left is Ron Boisvert (Chief of the NIST Mathematical and Computational Sciences Division), Mary Gottlieb (friend of the Colvin family), and Dan Colvin (son of Burt Colvin). On the right is John Todd and Fern Hunt (NIST mathematician).

John Todd was recognized for his research and leadership at NBS during the formative years of scientific computing. Born in Northern Ireland in 1911, Todd studied mathematics at Queen's University (Belfast) and at Cambridge. During World War Two he served in the Admiralty Department of Scientific Research and Experiment, where he was responsible for the Admiralty Computing Service. In 1947 Todd joined NBS, working closely with John Curtiss to establish the new National Applied Mathematics Laboratory (NAML, later known as the Applied Mathematics Division). NAML included the Institute for Numerical Analysis, which was housed at UCLA. In 1949, Todd became Chief of the NAML's Computation Laboratory in Washington. The Computation Laboratory co-developed (with the NBS Electronics Division) and operated the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC). Dedicated in 1950, SEAC was the first operational stored-program electronic digital computers in the United States. Todd assembled a capable group of researchers, and both led and participated actively in research on mathematical methods for exploiting the new computational power that was at hand. He studied methods for evaluating mathematical functions, generating random numbers (for Monte Carlo calculations), conformal mappings, and computations with matrices. He worked on the construction of mathematical tables. During this period, NBS became the leading center for a newly emerging field of legitimate mathematical research: numerical analysis. In 1954, Todd became Chief of the Numerical Analysis Section of the Applied Mathematics Division, a position he held until 1957. While at NBS, Todd became increasingly aware of the need to train researchers in the emerging field of numerical analysis. In 1957 he decided to dedicate himself full-time to this endeavor by taking a position as Professor of Mathematics at the California Institute of Technology. Today John Todd is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at CalTech, and in May 2001 a conference was held there to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Olga Taussky-Todd was recognized for her contributions to the NBS applied mathematics program in the areas of algebra, number theory, and matrix theory during her tenure there from 1947-57. Born in 1906, Olga Taussky was raised in Austria and received her doctorate in mathematics from the University of Vienna, later working with David Hilbert in Gottingen. In 1934 she moved to England, where she held several academic positions. She later applied her mathematical skills working for the British Ministry of Aircraft Production on such problems as the stability of aircraft designs. In 1938, while both were working at the University of London, Olga Taussky and John Todd married. Their collaboration, which lasted more than 57 years, was extraordinarily fruitful. In 1947, Taussky-Todd became a full-time consultant to the NBS NAML. Stimulated by the computer revolution, researchers such as Taussky-Todd began to establish matrix theory as a new field of study. Taussky-Todd's wide knowledge of mathematics and mathematicians is credited with playing an important part in the development of the NBS Institute for Numerical Analysis. Many researchers in linear algebra and applications were invited to NBS as staff or as visitors, making NBS the leading center for work in this area. Today, linear algebra and matrix theory are as a necessary tool for all scientists. Taussky-Todd also developed novel techniques for solving mathematical problems on the newly emerging computers. She left NBS in 1957 to join the faculty of the California Institute of Technology. There she was recognized by students and colleagues as one of Caltech's most gifted teachers and stimulating intellects. She was the first woman at CalTech to attain the academic rank of full professor. Selected by the L.A. Times in 1963 as "Woman of the Year", Taussky-Todd was hailed as one of the foremost mathematicians of her generation. She passed away in 1995 in Pasadena.

The NIST Gallery of Distinguished Scientists, Engineers and Administrators is located in the Administration Building on the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD. The galley is sponsored by the NIST Alumni Association.

(bullet) Ronald F. Boisvert (NIST/MCSD)

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