November 23, 2014

Math Professor Eugene Dynkin Dies at Age 90

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Renowned mathematician Prof. Emeritus Eugene Dynkin, mathematics, died on Nov. 14 in Cayuga Medical Center, according to the University. He was 90.

Dynkin — known for his work in algebra and probability theory — served in the Department of Mathematics for over 30 years.

Dynkin was born in 1924 in Leningrad, Russia, under the Stalin regime, according to Dynkin wrote in the foreword of Selected Papers of E. B. Dynkin with Commentary. In 1935, his family was exiled to Kazakhstan; his father disappeared two years later in the Gulag.

At the age of 16, Dynkin entered Moscow University, according to the University. In his book, he wrote that he considered his acceptance “a miracle,” as both the disappearance of his father and his Jewish background made him unfavorable in the eyes of the university’s administration.

Dynkin earned his M.S. in mathematics in 1945 and his Ph.D. in physics and mathematics in 1948 from Moscow University. His research focused on using simple roots to study Lie algebras, a form of linear algebra.

“A few times I was lucky to find a new approach which simplified an important theory,” Dynkin wrote.

His work began a school in Lie Groups in Moscow in the 1950s. Dynkin used “Dynkin diagrams,” which are widely used by mathematicians and elementary particle physicists, according to the University press release.

During this time, Dynkin also began working on stochastic calculus and more specifically on Markov chains.

“Some of my results demanded rather lengthy computations but the most exciting was to find from time to time a simple new connection between apparently unrelated phenomena,” he wrote.

In 1976, Dynkin emigrated to the United States and began working at Cornell — which he called “a great center in probability theory” — the following year, according to the book.

“I found here kind and friendly colleagues; gorgeous scenery of forests, lakes and waterfalls; and a few bright graduate students with whom I have started a seminar of the Moscow type,” he wrote. “The most exciting was a new feeling of freedom and independence of big and little bosses — something which I never enjoyed in my previous life.”

Dynkin retired in 2010. During his academic career, Dynkin authored over 186 research papers and 12 books. Dynkin also created the Eugene B. Dynkin Collection of Mathematics Interviews, which includes digitized copies of over 150 interviews he conducted with mathematicians, according to the collection web page.

Dynkin is survived by his wife, his daughter, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.