Sir Christopher Zeeman 1925-2016 17 February 2016

Sir Christopher Zeeman 1925-2016

Sir Christopher Zeeman, 1925 - 2016

It is with great sadness that The Mathematical Association has learnt of the death on 13 February of the eminent geometer and accomplished communicator Sir Christopher Zeeman. Sir Christopher made significant contributions to topology, including catastrophe theory and knot theory, and made advances associated with the Poincaré conjecture. His establishment and leadership of a mathematics research team at Warwick University brought that new institution to the notice of the world. Recognition followed in the form of Fellowship of the Royal Society, the Presidency of the London Mathematical Society and a Knighthood in 1991 for services not just to mathematics but also to mathematics education.


There is no rule that says that academics should engage with the general public or with school children, though a small number do. And so it was with Sir Christopher Zeeman. He gave public lectures as Professor of Geometry at Gresham College and he was the first mathematician to give the BBC’s Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution. And it was out of the latter that the Mathematics and Engineering Masterclasses arose and developed into a programme that helps to inspire mathematically-talented youngsters around the country today. The zeal with which Sir Christopher pursued these educational goals led to an invitation to be President of The Mathematical Association in 2003 and to become an Honorary Member of the Association in 2006. He involved himself in our work by writing the book Three-dimensional Theorems for Schools and by teasing his audiences at our Annual Conference, for example by exploring which theorems can be established without Euclid's fifth postulate. Sir Christopher’s life was long, and he used the time wisely and productively, pushing at the boundaries of mathematics itself whilst creating challenges for the developing mind.