New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) will award an honorary doctorate to one of the world’s foremost living mathematicians, Peter D. Lax, PhD, professor emeritus of mathematics at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University. Lax will receive the award during NJIT’s upcoming May 17, 2007 graduation ceremony in Continental Airlines Arena, which starts at 9 a.m.
In 2005, Lax received the Abel Prize, considered by many to be the Nobel Prize for mathematicians, for his groundbreaking contributions to the theory and application of partial differential equations and to the computation of their solutions. Other honors Lax has received include the National Medal of Science, the Semmelweis Medal, the Wiener Prize, and the Wolf Prize. The Lester R. Ford Award and the Chauvenet Prize were also awarded to him.
Lax will speak briefly at the ceremony. (ATTENTION EDITORS: To interview him that day, call Sheryl Weinstein, 973-596-3436.) Among the ideas he intends to share: “I have a deep concern about the poor mathematical education people receive nowadays in high school. The trouble is that teachers aren't trained well enough to explain to students the beauty and importance of mathematics; I suspect that schools of education are partly to blame, and partly our whole culture. Mathematicians ought to take some responsibility for fixing this problem, but it is not an easy task; there is too much of a disconnect between teachers and researchers.”
Lax has studied many areas of partial differential equations, the existence of solutions, their properties and how to construct them numerically.
During World War II, Lax was assigned to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico; in 1945-46, he worked on neutron transport. During trips in subsequent years to Los Alamos, mathematician John von Neumann helped spark his interest in shock waves, an area to which Lax later made important research contributions.
Lax received his PhD from the Courant Institute in 1949. He returned to the Courant Institute in 1954 after working at Los Alamos National Laboratory with von Neumann on devising schemes for simulating flows with many interacting shocks. He has spent his professional career at New York University, making significant contributions to both mathematics and scientific computing, including partial differential equations, integral systems, computational fluid dynamics, and hyperbolic conservation laws.
Lax has done foundational work on finding solutions to equations that describe the way a single wave moves. It has been long noticed, for example, that a single water wave down a canal will preserve its shape for astonishing distances; his work furthered understanding of such phenomena. His varied contributions touch areas such as scattering theory and modern computational mathematics.