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Bertram Kostant was one of the world’s foremost mathematicians. The Professor emeritus at MIT died last month aged 88 years old in the Hebrew Senior rehabilitation Center in Roslindale.

Kostant held the post of Professor of Mathematics at MIT from 1962 until 1993 when he officially retired however he continued to lead an active life engaging in research, travel and he even continued to lecture at Universities across the world.

Over 60 years, Lostant published well over a hundred papers and he was responsible for some diverse and inspiring ideas within his core subject mathematics and theoretical physics. he was born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from Peter Stuyvesant HIgh School in 1945 at the end of the war. He first started studying chemical engineering at Purdue University but later switched to mathematics. He was mainly inspired to this which by the lectures of Arthur Rosenthal and Michael Golomb who had emigrated from Germany. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with distinction.

Later in his career he was awarded the Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship for graduate studies at the University of Chicago. It was here that he began working with some of the premier American mathematicians like Marshall Stone and Paul Malmos plus many others. It was only in 1951 that Kostant received his MS and three years later his PhD with a thesis entitled -” Representations of a Lie Algebra and its enveloping algebra on a Hilbert Space “.

Kostant spent many more years in Chicago until he joined the faculty at MIT in 1962 which was to be the last move of his academic career. His earliest lectures were focussed around his Lie Theory and over the years he mentored many influential mathematicians like James Symons the differential geometer.

Over the years, he has received many awards and was often cited by colleagues in other research areas. His theories were often discussed and indeed you could often hear his theories discussed on TV particularly on the Open University broadcasts on the BBC. There is rumour that some of these will be made available from the archive although you will need a VPN to access BBC iPlayer abroad like this from outside the UK.

In May 2008, the Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences hosted a conference: “Lie Theory and Geometry: the Mathematical Legacy of Bertram Kostant,” at the University of British Columbia, which covered his work and celebrated this life when he was 80 years old. In the second half of 2012, he was finally elected to the inaugural class of fellows of the American Mathematical Society. When in las June, Kostant traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the Colloquium on Group Theoretical Methods in Physics, he was also to receive the prestigious Wigner Medal, “for his fundamental contributions to representation theory that led to new branches of mathematics and physics.”

James Hawkins

Author of BBC in Ireland, history of the broadcaster, 2016.