Obituaries: John A. Nohel

July 17, 2000


John A. Nohel, 1924-1999
John A. Nohel, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died on November 1, 1999, in Zürich, Switzerland. Born in Prague on October 24, 1924, he lived in Czechoslovakia until 1939, when his family was forced to leave their home. They eventually emigrated to the United States. John joined the U.S. Navy and became a citizen in 1943.

After his military service, he completed his education, receiving a BA in electrical engineering (with distinction) from George Washington University (1948), followed by a PhD in mathematics from MIT (1953). His thesis was written under the direction of Norman Levinson. John then took a position as an assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. He left that institution in 1961 with the rank of full professor and joined the Mathematics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In Madison, John led an extremely active and accomplished professional life. He wrote the bulk of his more than 80 research papers there, co-authored or co-edited 12 books, guided 10 students to their PhDs, and was a very successful mentor to postdoctoral fellows. He served as chair of the Mathematics Department from 1968 to 1970, as director of the Mathematics Research Center (MRC) from 1979 to 1987, and as the founding director of the Center for the Mathematical Sciences from 1987 to 1990. He retired in 1991.

John's earliest research involved the study of the qualitative behavior of solutions of differential equations, Volterra integral equations, and differential-delay equations. Eventually, his interests shifted to mathematical problems for integrodifferential equations and their application to the theories of viscoelasticity, heat flow, and non-Newtonian flows. He made many important contributions to the questions of existence and asymptotic behavior of solutions, to energy methods, and to conservation laws with memory. His gregarious nature led to many successful collaborations, especially during his service as director of MRC. There, his ever-positive and supportive attitude fostered a particularly congenial and much appreciated atmosphere, one that helped to maintain MRC as a major international center for applied mathematics in the broadest sense.

In 1984, John was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Three special issues of the Journal of Integral Equations and its Applications were dedicated to him in 1990 in commemoration of his 65th birthday.

John was an active member of many professional organizations: the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, AAAS, Sigma Xi, the Society of Natural Philosophy, the International Society for the Interaction of Mechanics and Pure Mathematics, the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, and SIAM. He served these organizations in many capacities.

The AMS Committee for Human Rights of Mathematicians was especially important to him; as a member from 1977 to 1985 (and as chair from 1979 to 1981), he worked to help politically persecuted colleagues in the mathematics community. He was a member of two joint AMS-SIAM-MAA committees: the Committee on Employment Opportunities (which he chaired from 1975 to 1978) and the Committee on Special Projects (1980-83, as chair in 1981 and 1982). He was a visiting lecturer for SIAM (1961-65), a member-at-large of the SIAM Council (1966-69), and a member of the SIAM Board of Trustees (1980-85). John also served on several editorial boards: SIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics (1967-79), SIAM Journal on Mathematical Analysis (1973-92), and the Journal of Integral Equations and Applications (1987-94); from 1981 to 1987, he was managing editor of the SIAM Studies book series.

John moved to Switzerland in 1991. Even in retirement, he continued his research, giving lectures about his work at many academic institutions in Europe and the U.S. He was particularly pleased to serve as the main editor of the selected works of his PhD adviser, Norman Levinson, completing this demanding project in 1997.

John's good humor, warmth and openness, and boundless enthusiasm for life and mathematics made a lasting impression on all those around him. He is survived by his second wife, Liselotte Karrer Nohel, and his three children, Richard, Audrey, and Tom Nohel. His first wife, Vera Weisskopf Nohel, died in 1988.

The family has established the John Nohel Memorial Fund to further the careers of young Czech mathematicians. Contributions can be sent to the fund at M&I Bank, c/o Colleen Johnson, 7801 Mineral Point Road, Madison, WI 53711.

---Carl de Boor, Paul H. Rabinowitz, and Athanasios Tzavaras, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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