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Cathleen Morawetz, Mathematician With Real-World Impact, Dies at 94

August 11,2017 20:24

Cathleen S. Morawetz, a mathematician whose theorems often found use in solving real-world engineering problems, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 94. Her death was reported by New York University, where she had been a professor.


With that insight, aerospace engineers now design wings to minimize shocks rather than trying to eliminate them.
In later work Dr. Morawetz studied the scattering of waves off objects. She invented a method to prove what is known as the Morawetz inequality, which describes the maximum amount of wave energy near an object at a given time. It proves that wave energy scatters rather than lingering near the object indefinitely.
“She did some very nice things that are still quoted today,” said Louis Nirenberg, a New York University mathematician who first met Dr. Morawetz as a graduate student.
Photo
Dr. Morawetz at New York University’s commencement in 2007. Credit Phil Gallo/New York University Photo BureauHe said he attended a general relativity conference a few weeks ago. “People there were using her inequalities,” he said.
Cathleen Synge was born on May 5, 1923, in Toronto, the daughter of Irish immigrants. Her father, John Lighton Synge, was a physicist and mathematician known for research that used a geometric approach to study Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Her mother, the former Elizabeth Eleanor Mabel Allen, had been a math major in college but dropped out when she married. Dr. Morawetz credited her mother with encouraging her to have a career.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Toronto in 1945, the same year she married Herbert Morawetz, a polymer chemist.
She toyed with the idea of going to India as a teacher, but a Toronto math professor who was a family friend persuaded her to go to graduate school instead. She received a master’s degree in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the next year and a doctorate at New York University in 1951. She wrote her thesis about imploding shock waves.
After a postdoctoral fellowship at M.I.T., she returned to New York University. She worked part time, supported by Navy contracts, before she was offered an assistant professorship in 1957. She spent the rest of her career at the university, including serving as the director of the Courant Institute from 1984 to 1988.
Dr. Morawetz was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1995 she became president of the American Mathematical Society, and in 1998 she became the first female mathematician to receive a National Medal of Science.
In addition to her husband, Dr. Morawetz is survived by three daughters, Pegeen Rubinstein, Lida Jeck and Nancy Morawetz; a son, John; a sister, Isabel Seddon; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.
In an interview with the journal Science in 1979, Dr. Morawetz recalled that when her children were young — a time when few women pursued professional careers — people often asked whether she worried about them while she was at work.
Her reply: “No, I’m much more likely to worry about a theorem when I’m with my children.”

Deaths (Obituaries),Cathleen Morawetz,Mathematics,Education (K-12)

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