Joseph Keller

Joseph Bishop Keller
Born (1923-07-31)July 31, 1923
Paterson, New Jersey, U.S.
Died September 7, 2016(2016-09-07) (aged 93)
Stanford, California, U.S.
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Mathematics
Institutions New York University
Stanford University
Alma mater New York University
Doctoral advisor Richard Courant
Doctoral students George C. Papanicolaou
L. Mahadevan
Known for Geometrical theory of diffraction
Einstein–Brillouin–Keller method
Notable awards Eringen Medal (1981)
Timoshenko Medal (1984)
National Medal of Science (USA) in Mathematical, Statistical, and Computational Sciences (1988)
Nemmers Prize in Mathematics (1996)
Wolf Prize (1997)

Joseph Bishop Keller (July 31, 1923 September 7, 2016) was an American mathematician who specialized in applied mathematics. He was best known for his work on the "geometrical theory of diffraction" (GTD).[1]

Early life and education

Born in Paterson, New Jersey on July 31, 1923, Keller attended Eastside High School, where he was a member of the math team.[2] After earning his undergraduate degree in 1943 at New York University, Keller obtained his PhD in 1948 from NYU under the supervision of Richard Courant. He was a Professor of Mathematics in the Courant Institute at New York University until 1979. Then he was Professor of Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University until 1993, when he became Professor Emeritus.


Keller worked on the application of mathematics to problems in science and engineering, such as wave propagation. He contributed to the Einstein–Brillouin–Keller method for computing eigenvalues in quantum mechanical systems.

Awards and honors

Keller was awarded a Lester R. Ford Award (shared with David W. McLaughlin) in 1976[3] and unshared in 1977.[4] In 1988 he was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Science, and in 1997 he was awarded the Wolf Prize by the Israel-based Wolf Foundation. In 1996, he was awarded the Nemmers Prize in Mathematics. In 1999 he was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for calculating how to make a teapot spout that does not drip. He also won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2012 for studying the forces that determine the motion of a human ponytail. This makes him the only person to win more than one Ig Nobel Prize. In 2012 he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[5]

With Patrick B. Warren, Robin C. Ball and Raymond E. Goldstein, Keller was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2012 for calculating the forces that shape and move ponytail hair.[6][7]

Personal life

Keller had a brother who was also a mathematician, Herbert B. Keller, who has studied numerical analysis, scientific computing, bifurcation theory, path following and homotopy methods, and computational fluid dynamics. Herbert Keller was a professor at Caltech. Both brothers contributed to the fields of electromagnetics and fluid dynamics. Joseph Keller died in Stanford, California on September 7, 2016.[8]


  1. Keller, J.B. (1962). "Geometrical theory of diffraction". J. Opt. Soc. Am. 52 (2): 116–130. doi:10.1364/JOSA.52.000116.
  2. Roberts, Sam. "Joseph B. Keller, Mathematician With Whimsical Curiosity, Dies at 93", The New York Times, September 16, 2016. Accessed September 19, 2016. "Joseph Bishop Keller was born in Paterson, N.J., on July 31, 1923. His father, Isaac Keiles — whose name, he said, was changed when he arrived in the United States — was a Russian refugee who fled pogroms against Jews.... Joseph Keller competed on the math team at East Side High School in Paterson."
  3. Keller, Joseph B.; McLaughlin, David W. (1975). "The Feynman Integral". Amer. Math. Monthly. 82: 451–465. doi:10.2307/2319736.
  4. Keller, Joseph B. (1976). "Inverse Problem". Amer. Math. Monthly. 83: 107–118.
  5. List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 2013-01-27.
  6. Goldstein, R.; Warren, P.; Ball, R. (2012). "Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles" (PDF). Physical Review Letters. 108 (7). arXiv:1204.0371Freely accessible. Bibcode:2012PhRvL.108g8101G. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.108.078101.
  7. "Ray Goldstein Shares 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for Physics". University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on 2013-02-03.
  8. "Stanford Professor Emeritus Joseph Keller, an applied mathematician whose work investigated atomic explosions and oscillating ponytails, dies at 93". Stanford News. September 8, 2016. Retrieved September 8, 2016.

External links

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