Former Math Chair Fondly Remembered

Family and Friends Say Murray Protter 'Went Over And Above His Duties as Teacher' at UC Berkeley


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Former chair of the UC Berkeley math department Murray Protter, known for his contributions to the department as well as his best-selling calculus textbooks, including one that sold more than one million copies in the '60s and '70s, died May 1 in his Berkeley home as a result of congestive heart failure. He was 90.

Philip Protter, Murray Protter's son, said his father was considered beloved by his students and his peers, and that he was an early advocate of affirmative action and women's liberation.

"He had a personality that meshed well with the Berkeley ethos," he said.

As a professor, Protter showed great concern for his students, said UC Berkeley math professor emeritus Calvin Moore, a longtime colleague of Protter.

"(Protter was) a very responsible citizen of the (mathematics) department and the university (who) went over and above his duties as a teacher," he said.

While Protter is the author of numerous books, including some bestsellers, colleagues cited Protter's contributions to the UC Berkeley math department as among his most prestigious accomplishments.

Protter, who taught at UC Berkeley from 1953 until 1988, served as the math department chair from 1962 to 1965.

As chair, Protter hired many of the world's most prominent mathematicians as faculty, helping UC Berkeley to become one of the world's leading math departments, Moore said.

Protter's math research also made contributions to fields of science.

Protter did research on partial differential equations, which provide scientists and engineers in many fields with information that helps to explain physical processes such as heat and fluid flow, Moore said.

During World War II, Protter studied the problem of "flutter"-the tendency of aircraft wings to vibrate violently when the craft travels at high speeds-and mathematically designed new ways of building the wings that raised the speed at which flutter would occur to higher than the speed that the planes could actually fly, Moore said.

According to Moore, these findings made flying military aircrafts during the war significantly safer for American pilots.

Later, during the Cold War, Protter led a delegation of mathematicians to the Soviet Union as part of a rare cultural exchange, Moore said.

Philip Protter, who is a professor of operations research and industrial engineering at Cornell University, said his father enjoyed both teaching and making contributions to the field of mathematics.

"The two things (my father) really loved in life were doing research and teaching," he said.

F. Alberto Grunbaum, a UC Berkeley math professor, said he had great admiration for Protter as both a colleague and a friend.

"The department has lost someone of great integrity and sound judgment, and I have also lost a great friend," he said.


Contact Nick Moore at [email protected]

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