Robert Osserman

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Robert Osserman (born December 19, 1926 in New York City , † November 30, 2011 in Berkeley ) was an American mathematician who dealt with geometric function theory, differential geometry and minimal surfaces .

Robert Osserman, Berkeley 1984


Osserman, born in New York City in 1926, attended the Bronx High School of Science , studied at New York University and (after serving in the meantime) at Harvard University (as well as in Paris and Zurich ), where he received his doctorate in 1955 under Lars Ahlfors , with a thesis on the type problem of Riemannian surfaces ( Contributions to the problem of type ). He then went to Stanford University , where he stayed for the rest of his career and also retired. He was also a visiting professor at Harvard, at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences of New York University , as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Paris , in 1976 as a Guggenheim Fellow at the University of Warwick and head of the mathematics department at the Office of Naval Research. 1973 to 1979 he was chairman of the math department at Stanford. In 1987 he became Mellon Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies there. Since 1990 he has been (part-time) Deputy Director at MSRI , where he has also been responsible for various public relations as Special Projects Director since 1995.

Osserman mainly dealt with minimal surfaces from the standpoint of conformal geometry, but also with isoperimetric inequalities and ergodic theory . In 1970 he showed that the plateau problem has solutions without singularities (Robert Gulliver also showed this independently in 1973).

In 1985 he gave a simple proof of the four-vertex theorem that every simple closed curve in the plane except the circle has at least four extrema (maxima / minima) (the first proof comes from Adolf Kneser 1912).

At Stanford he also developed new interdisciplinary mathematics courses, partly elaborated in his popular science book Geometry of the Universe (Mathematical Applications in Cosmology). He received the Distinguished Teachers Award from Stanford University.

He received the Lester R. Ford Prize from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and the 2003 Communications Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM) for his popular science writings. In 1978 he was invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Helsinki ( Isoperimetric inequalities and eigenvalues ​​of the Laplacian ).

His PhD students include H. Blaine Lawson and David Hoffman.


  • Geometry of the universe. Vieweg 1997, English original: Poetry of the Universe - a mathematical exploration of the cosmos. Anchor Books / Doubleday, New York 1996 (translated into numerous languages)
  • A survey of minimal surfaces. 2nd edition, Dover 1986
  • Curvature in the Eighties. American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 97, 1990, p. 731.
  • Osserman: Mathematics of the Heavens. Notices AMS 2005, PDF file
  • Osserman: From Schwarz to Pick to Ahlfors and Beyond. Notices AMS 1999, PDF file
  • Osserman: The isoperimetric inequality. BAMS, 1978
  • The four or more vertex theorem. American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 93, 1985, p. 332.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Robert Osserman, noted Stanford mathematician, dies at 84 . Stanford University . December 16, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2011.