A Turning Point for Bob O'Malley

December 7, 1999


Don Drew, on behalf of Bob O'Malley's thoughtful friends, presented him with a very old, rare edition of the three volumes of Poincaré's work on celestial mechanics.

Joseph E. Flaherty and Robert M.M. Mattheij

Approximately 60 mathematicians journeyed to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute over Columbus Day weekend (October 9 and 10) to participate in the workshop "Singular Perturbations at the Turning Point of the Millennium," which, coincidentally, recognized the 60th birthday of Robert E. O'Malley, Jr. A professor
of applied mathematics at the University of Washington and a former SIAM president, O'Malley is known for several pioneering contributions to singular perturbation theory and applications. Before moving to Seattle, he spent several years at Rensselaer as chair of the mathematical sciences department, which thus seemed a fitting host for the meeting.

The workshop, organized by Don Drew, Joe Flaherty, Mark Holmes, Michele Kronau, and Pam Paslow of Rensselaer and Bob Mattheij of Eindhoven, was sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Office. Lead-off speakers Joe Keller (Stanford) and Adelaida Vasilieva (Moscow State) got the meeting off to an excellent start. The other keynote speakers were Germund Dahlquist of the Royal Institute of Technology, Antony Jameson of Stanford, Ash Kapila of Rensselaer, Bernie Matkowsky of Northwestern, and Bob Mattheij of Eindhoven. The organizers let O'Malley have the last word, and he closed the symposium with a talk titled "Some New and Some Old Ideas About Singular Perturbations."

The speakers in 22 additional invited presentations discussed a wide range of theoretical and applied topics. Applications involved fluid mechanics, semiconductor design, control theory, impedance imaging, forestry, biomechanics, and combustion. Among the more theoretical topics were super sensitivity, exponential asymptotics, and Painlevé equations.

Despite the variety, all the talks alluded, in some way, to O'Malley's contributions to the mathematical sciences. It was impressive to learn how the many people he has met during his career have maintained both scientific and social contact with him. Indeed, as readers may recall from his recent article in SIAM News (September 1999, "The People Were Great in Edinburgh!"), the only thing more incredible than the number of people who know him is the number of people he knows!

Of course, we had to celebrate Bob's birthday, and this was done at a banquet on Saturday. Approximately eighty people traveled from near and far to attend this celebration. One distinguished guest was Bob's twin brother Dick, whose presence caused quite a bit of confusion. Bob and Dick are identical! Many who didn't know of Bob's family assumed that Dick was Bob; those who did still found it befuddling. The major distinction between them is in the legs of their glasses: black for Bob and brown for Dick.

In the spirit of his research interest, his friends offered him original volumes of Poincaré's work as a birthday gift. The hope is that the books will motivate him to maintain his knowledge of French and to enjoy the many discoveries of this great applied mathematician.

The "roasts" traditional for such celebrations were pretty mild at this one. Many spoke of Bob's friendship and generosity, and friends who could not attend sent very nice messages of congratulation. Some people related humorous anecdotes. One recalled a trip to the Capilani suspension bridge as part of a conference on boundary value problems. Bob's excitement over a new result caused the bridge to start swinging and swaying. An announcement on the loudspeaker asked for "that young man in the middle of the bridge to stop jumping." While many saw the wisdom of this caution, others found it unfair. After all, applied scientists must validate their theories! Besides, Bob was still using regular perturbation theory.

Pleasantly perturbing the birthday celebration for Bob O'Malley was a distinguished guest whose existence took many by surprise and caused no small confusion even among those in the know.

Everyone at the workshop and banquet expressed delight to have such a great person as a friend and colleague. With such spirit, we look forward to celebrating his 70th. Best wishes and good luck, Bob!

A complete list of presentations and participants, along with photos, can be found at the workshop Web site (http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~flaherje/omalley).


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