Lawrence C. Biedenharn Jr., 73, a longtime member of Duke University's physics faculty and an internationally known researcher in theoretical physics, died Monday, Feb. 12, in Austin, Texas, after a lengthy battle with cancer. He had made his home in Texas in recent years.
Biedenharn became the youngest full professor on the Duke faculty -- at age 38 -- when he was appointed in 1961. He remained at Duke until 1993, when he retired as James B. Duke professor of physics and subsequently moved to the University of Texas at Austin as adjunct professor. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., he received both his bachelor's degree and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served in World War II as a Signal Corps officer and later on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan.
Serving on the faculties of Yale University and Rice University before coming to Duke, he published six books and hundreds of research articles in the fields of nuclear physics and later mathematical physics. He also edited the Journal of Mathematical Physics for many years.
Biedenharn, Holman, and Louck showed how the classical work on ordinary hypergeometric series is intimately related to the irreducible representations of the compact group SU(2). Similarly, they found U(n) multiple series generalizations of one-variable hypergeometric summation and transformation theorems by comparing two ways of computing the matrix elements of multiplicity free Wigner and Racah coefficients in U(n). This work was done in the context of the quantum theory of angular momentum and the special unitary groups SU(n). This work motivated the far-reaching q-analogs that Milne, Gustafson, and their co-workers subsequently found. Applications of this later work include unified proofs of the Macdonald identities, constant term identities, multiple q-beta integrals, U(n+1) and symplectic generalizations of the Bailey Transform and Bailey Lemma, classical matrix inversion results, numerous classical summation and transformation theorems for one-variable q-series, Rogers-Ramanujan identities, and, finally, new infinite families of identities for sums of squares in classical number theory.
His book about Quantum Group Symmetry and q-tensor Algebras, jointly written with M.A. Lohe, appeared recently; see OP-SF NET, Issue 3.2, Topic #9. Biedenharn's work continues to motivate much of this recent research in multivariable orthogonal polynomials, special functions, and their applications.
Lawrence C. Biedenharn is survived by his wife of 45 years, Sarah; his son John; daughter Sally; and two grandchildren.