I got an email yesterday afternoon from Rice Computer Science professor Moshe Vardi letting me know that his Great Grand Advisor Shmuel Agmon was celebrating his hundredth birthday. (Mathematicians carefully trace their academic genealogies. Here’s Agmon’s.)
Agmon was hired by Rice in the spring of 1949, not long after Israel became an independent nation. He arrived in Houston in 1950 as a lecturer in the math department, became an assistant professor in 1952, and then returned to Jerusalem to teach at Hebrew University. He came back to Rice as a visiting professor in 1964.
Agmon’s arrival at Rice elicited quite a bit of interest. The Thresher ran an unusually long article, seemingly prompted by his background, which was pretty unusual on campus at this time:
Even more interesting from my own perspective is how Agmon got here. If you looked at his academic genealogy you will surely have noted that his own Ph.D. advisor was Szolem Mandelbrojt, one of the most important figures in the history of mathematics at Rice. Mandelbrojt taught at Rice in 1926, then returned to campus for a good part of World War II. His time here was incredibly productive. He taught both graduate students and undergraduates, gave lecture series which were later published, and was the speaker at every Math Department colloquium for the next four years. After the war ended he spent every spring semester at Rice for twenty years. It was on Mandelbrojt’s advice that President Houston hired Agmon.
Here’s Mandelbrojt, front and center, with the Math Department in 1926:
Take one more genealogical step back and you will discover that Mandelbrojt’s own advisor was the eminent French-Jewish mathematician Jacques Hadamard. Dr. Lovett met with Hadamard on his trip around the world and Hadamard came to Rice to lecture in 1920 and 1925, beginning the long and fruitful association that continues to today.
Bonus: As far as I can tell, Professor Agmon’s wife Galia was the first Israeli student at Rice. She did graduate work in the English department, I believe with Professor McKillop. This photo is from her application.