Celebration of a Wide-ranging Community at Kent State

July 23, 1999

Daniel B. Szyld

More than a hundred scientists from all over the U.S., Canada, Japan, and several European countries gathered late in March at Kent State University to honor Richard S. Varga on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The three-day conference was called "Mathematical Journey through Analysis, Matrix Theory and Scientific Computation," reflecting the many areas of mathematics to which Varga has contributed.

These areas were very well represented in the more than sixty talks given at the conference, on topics ranging from approximation theory to zeros of the Riemann zeta function, with a heavy dose of numerical analysis and scientific computing along the way. Many of the speakers traced their interest in particular fields, from matrix theory to complex analysis, either to Varga's classic book Matrix Iterative Analysis or to having met Varga at a particular time in their careers.

Varga regaled the audience with reminiscences from his more than forty years of scientific work. In one moving moment, he recalled a conversation from his undergraduate days at Case Western Reserve, when a Professor Morris told him to "bet on yourself," encouraging him to go to graduate school at Harvard. He eventually did, of course, getting there at an exciting time. In 1954, Varga recalled, people working in the areas of complex analysis, approximation theory, and numerical analysis had a sense of destiny.

The event was a true celebration of one of the community's pillars. I use the word "community" in a very loose way, as Varga has been part of several communities. At the same time, he has helped to increase communication among these communities. This observation was confirmed both in the scientific sessions and during informal conversations and social events. A measure of the international nature of this community came during the banquet, when the microphone was passed around and "Happy Birthday" was expressed in 33 different languages.

There were references to countless visits to Kent over the years; the visitors, from Hawaii to Germany, keep coming back---and not precisely because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city of Kent. There were also references to Varga's tireless work as editor of several publications. Just a few highlights: He has been an editor of Numerische Mathematik since 1965, and editor-in-chief since 1988. In 1993, Varga, Lothar Reichel, and Arden Ruttan founded the Electronic Transactions on Numerical Analysis (ETNA), before any publisher or mathematical society had moved into electronic publishing; he and Reichel are still the editors-in-chief, and Ruttan is the managing editor.

I contend that this conference, in celebrating Richard Varga's birthday, was also a celebration of the community itself. The papers were of high quality. The participants enjoyed the scientific talks and the amicable atmosphere. Part of the credit goes to Daniela Calvetti (Case Western Reserve) and Lothar Reichel (Kent State), who co-organized the conference (together with Arden Ruttan of Kent State) and opened their house for a wonderful party. Part of the credit goes also to all who enthusiastically responded to the organizers' call to participate in this event.

Daniel B. Szyld is a professor of mathematics at Temple University.

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