Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rest in Peace, Bill Thurston....

A great mathematician, and my professional grandfather (he was the thesis advisor of my thesis advisor), died some days ago.  William Thurston, a pioneering mathematician is many areas, whose contributions not only spanned many areas of mathematics but tied disparate topics together through geometry, fell to cancer at the age of 65.

I only met him and saw him speak a few times, but all of my work is to be considered "thurston-esque" in that it plays on the tools and ideas he exposed and developed.  I remember distinctly early on in my thesis research struggling to understand what was going on in one of his papers, yet feeling the fascination and joy in the slow but steady comprehension.  Every mathematician, like every writer and artist, has a style about them.  Not just a style in the way they write but a style in the way they think, perceive, and present.  I see that style in the "children" of Bill Thurston, people like Benson Farb, Richard Canany, Lee Mosher, Yair Minsky, Martin Bridgeman, and my advisor Bill Goldman.  They seem to see mathematics the way a child views a carnival: full of wonder and joy, fasinated with each new discovery, and simply happy to be a part of the whole scene.

Of course, this is a huge loss for the mathematics world.  But his contributions even up to now will continue to percolate through the outer edges of what is known and what is yet to be discovered.  And his attitude, his style, as seen through his descendents, will certainly live on.

Rest in Peace, Bill Thurston.  The community will miss you.  And we thank you dearly for your thoughts.

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