Lipman Bers

Born: 23 May 1914 in Riga, Russia (now Latvia)
Died: 29 Oct 1993 in New Rochelle, New York, USA

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Lipa Bers (he was always known as Lipa) studied at the University of Zurich, then returned to Riga and studied at the university there. At this time Europe was a place of extreme politics and, in 1934, Latvia became ruled by a dictator. Lipa wrote for an underground newspaper criticising the dictator. A warrant was issued for his arrest and, just in time, he escaped to Prague. His girl friend Mary followed him to Prague where they married.

Lipa's doctorate was obtained from Prague where he studied at the Charles University under Karl Loewner and wrote a thesis on potential theory in 1938.

In 1938 Czechoslovakia became an impossible country for someone of Jewish background, so Lipa fled to Paris. However, the war followed him and soon the Nazi armies began occupying France. Lipa applied for a visa to the USA and, while waiting to obtain permission, he wrote two papers on Green's functions and integral representations. Just days before Paris surrendered to the advancing armies, Lipa and his family moved from Paris.

In 1940 Lipa arrived in the USA. He was unemployed until 1942, living in New York. During this time he continued his mathematical researches. After this he was appointed to Brown University where, as part of work relevant to the war effort, he studied two-dimensional subsonic fluid flow. This important at that time since aircraft wings were being designed for planes with jet engines capable of high speeds.

Between 1945 and 1949 Bers worked at Syracuse University. Here he began work on the problem of removability of singularities of nonlinear elliptic equations. His major results in this area were announced by him at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1950.

Bers then moved to Princeton where he began work on Teichmüller theory, pseudoanalytic functions, quasiconformal mappings and Kleinian groups. He was set in the right direction by an inequality he found in a paper of Lavrentev.

In 1951 Bers went to the Courant Institute in New York and remained there for 13 years. During this time he wrote a number of important books and surveys on his work.

In 1964 Bers went to Columbia University where he was to remain until he retired in 1984. He was chairman of the department from 1972 to 1975.

In [2] Bers life is summed up as follows:-

Lipa possessed a joy of life and an optimism that is difficult to find at this time and that is sorely missed. Those of us who experienced it directly have felt an obligation to pass it on. That, in addition to the beauty of his own work, is Lipa's enduring gift to us.
References (2 books/articles)

References elsewhere in this archive:

Lipman Bers was the President of the American Mathematical Society in 1975 - 1976. You can see a history of the AMS and a list of AMS presidents.
He was the American Mathematical Society Colloquium Lecturer in 1971. You can see a history of the AMS Colloquium and a list of the lecturers.

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JOC/EFR December 1996