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Interview with Herbert B. Keller

Keller, Herbert B. (1998) Interview with Herbert B. Keller. [Oral History]

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Interview in two sessions, May and June 1996, with Herbert B. Keller, professor of applied mathematics with a joint appointment in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science and the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy. Dr. Keller received his BEE at Georgia Tech in 1945 and his PhD from New York University (Institute for Mathematics and Mechanics, later the Courant Institute) in 1954. At Caltech as a visiting professor in 1965; joined the faculty as full professor in 1967. Executive officer for applied mathematics, 1980-1985. He discusses growing up in Paterson, N.J., with his older brother, mathematician Joseph Keller, and education in mathematics at Eastside High School. Matriculates at Georgia Tech and joins NROTC; in World War II, serves as a fire-control officer on the USS Mississippi. After the war, he takes graduate courses in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech; soon follows his brother to NYU and the institute established there by Richard Courant. Recollections of Courant and Charles De Prima; fellow students: Peter Lax, Louis Nirenberg, Cathleen Morawetz, and Harold Grad. Bicycling trip in Europe, 1948, with his brother; meeting up with Courant in Switzerland. Thesis work with Bernard Friedman. From 1951-1953, he taught mathematics at Sarah Lawrence. Recalls working with Robert Richtmyer at Courant on the Atomic Energy Commission's UNIVAC computer; becomes associate director of the AEC Computation and Applied Mathematics Center; Edward Teller and Hans Bethe as consultants; visits Los Alamos and Livermore. Initial invitation to Caltech in 1960 from Gilbert McCann, head of what was then called information science (now computer science). Happy at Courant and unimpressed with Caltech's offer, he declines, but visits Caltech in 1965 at invitation of Gerald Whitham, joining new applied mathematics program. Returns to NYU for a year, then back to Caltech to stay. Recalls applied math group--Donald Cohen, Philip Saffman, Julian Cole, later Joel Franklin. Recalls Jack Todd. Helps establish and for many years teaches one of Caltech's most popular courses: Applied Mathematics 95 (AMA 95). Discusses early development of computer science at Caltech: Donald Knuth, Carver Mead, Charles L. Seitz., Ivan Sutherland, Mani Chandy. Discusses his relations with Caltech's pure mathematicians and aerodynamicists. Recalls sabbatical at INRIA [Institut National de Recherche en d'Informatique et en Automatique] and visiting professorship at Paris-Orsay. Visiting fellow at Christ College, Cambridge, and DAMTP (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics) in 1993. Concludes by recalling his impressions of K.O. Friedrichs and Fritz John at Courant and his work with his brother.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Applied mathematics
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Keller_H
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Keller, Herbert B. Interview by Shirley K. Cohen. Pasadena, California, May 6 and June 13, 1996. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
Subjects > Mathematics
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Subjects > Engineering
ID Code:151
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:21 Jul 2008
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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