Tufts University  |  School of Arts and Sciences  |  School of Engineering  |  Find People  | 

Math Life

People Profiles

Martin Guterman

Martin GutermanMarty Guterman came to Tufts as an Instructor in 1966. After he completed his Ph.D. at Cornell in 1968, he was promoted to Assistant Professor; he became Associate Professor in 1972 and Professor in 1987. Professor Guterman's research was in a branch of mathematics called group theory. Group theory is the study of symmetry, and is of fundamental importance in mathematics and theoretical physics. Professor Guterman's major research papers were part of one of the largest mathematical enterprises in twentieth century mathematics, the classification of finite simple groups, producing a "periodic table" of the "elements" from which all finite groups are composed. This project involved the combined efforts of well over 100 mathematicians by the time it was completed in the mid-1980s. Marty's major contribution to the project was to study the structure of the exceptional Lie groups of type \(F_4\) defined over a finite field of characteristic two.

Professor Guterman was a truly extraordinary teacher. He was central in initiating many of the courses that are now standard in our mathematics curriculum, including Discrete Mathematics, Number Theory, Linear Algebra, and the graduate-level sequence in Algebra. He helped shape the current differential equations course taken by all engineering majors, which is unusual in its use of differential equations to motivate basic linear algebra, and the associated book he wrote with Zbigniew Nitecki. However, the course that he regarded as his proudest achievement in teaching was "Symmetry", a course for non-technical majors which uses wallpaper patterns and the art of M. C. Escher to introduce students in a concrete way to basic ideas in group theory. At the end of the course, the students produce art projects illustrating some of the different possible types of symmetry in the plane. Professor Guterman's office in Bromfield-Pearson Hall was always filled with spectacular examples of his students' projects. His notes for this course explain sophisticated ideas from group theory to an audience whose exposure to abstract mathematics is minimal. This course, together with "The Mathematics of Social Choice" (another Guterman creation), continues to be the most popular way for students in the arts and humanities to fulfill their mathematics distribution requirement at Tufts.

Many of Professor Guterman's colleagues outside the Mathematics Department came to know him through his energetic and wide-ranging involvement in committee work at Tufts. He also served for many years as the Mathematics Department liaison to the Education Department. Marty took great pride in the achievements of his wife Sonia as a biochemist and more recently intellectual property rights lawyer, and of his daughters Lila, a science writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Beth, a concert violist.

Professor Guterman is remembered with a variety of tributes, notably the Guterman Award and Guterman Lectures, and also the Martin Guterman Library, a collection of mathematical books that is housed in the reading area on the third floor of Bromfield-Pearson Hall. Outside Tufts, a scholarship has been established at the New England Conservatory in Professor Guterman's name to encourage a high-school student in the study of chamber music, about which Marty was passionate and knowledgable.

Professor Guterman died of cancer on February 1, 2004.