Gehring Memorial Gathering
August 24, 2012
Distinguished University Professor Emeritus Frederick W. Gehring, a world-renowned mathematician, died on May 29, 2012 at age 86. Born in Ann Arbor, his association with the University of Michigan went back two generations to his grandfather, John Oren Reed, who was a member of the physics faculty and Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Gehring joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and subsequently earned two degrees from U-M—B.S. in mathematics and electrical engineering in 1946, and M.S. in mathematics in 1949. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge (England) and spending three years as a Peirce Instructor at Harvard, he returned in 1955 to teach mathematics at U-M. He was promoted to Professor in 1962, was named to a collegiate chair in 1984, and became the T. H. Hildebrandt Distinguished University Professor in 1987. His long history of service at U-M includes three terms as chair of the Department of Mathematics. He retired in 1996.
Gehring was a leading figure in the field of quasiconformal mappings. (Briefly, such mappings of the plane send infinitesimal circles to ellipses with bounded eccentricity.) Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships in 1958–1960 allowed him to study in Helsinki and Zürich, where he began to learn about quasiconformal mappings. He was instrumental in developing that theory, often in collaboration with Finnish colleagues, and bringing it into the mainstream of mathematical analysis. In particular, he pioneered an important extension of the planar theory to n-dimensional Euclidean space, emphasizing new tools such as extremal length. His work on the higher integrability of quasiconformal Jacobians lies at the foundation of that theory. In later years, working with his former student Gaven Martin, he brought quasiconformal mappings into a broad study of discrete transformation groups.
In 2006, the American Mathematical Society honored Gehring with a Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement. The citation (Notices of the AMS 53 (2006), 468-469) says in part, “Largely because of Gehring’s work, the theory of quasiconformal mappings has influenced many other parts of mathematics, including complex dynamics, function theory, partial differential equations, and topology. Higher dimensional quasiconformality is an essential ingredient of the Mostow rigidity theorem and of recent work of Donaldson and Sullivan on gauge theory and four-manifolds…Gehring’s mathematics is characterized by its elegance and simplicity and by its emphasis on deceptively elementary questions which later become surprisingly significant.”
Fred Gehring supervised 29 Ph.D. students, many of whom are now faculty members at research universities, and he mentored more than 40 postdoctoral fellows. He maintained contact with his former students and postdocs for many years and continued to inspire them. Fred and his wife Lois took a personal interest in Fred’s students and postdocs, and brought them into their family circle. Two books coauthored with former students will soon be published by the AMS.
In addition to the Steele Prize, Gehring’s many honors include a Humboldt Award, the U-M Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award, Sokol Faculty Award, and Henry Russel Lectureship. He was named Commander of the White Rose of Finland. In 1989 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the National Academy of Sciences.
Fred was a devotee of fine wines and single malt whiskies. He loved classical music, foreign languages (he was remarkably fluent in Finnish), and camping. He is survived by his wife Lois, his sons Kalle and Peter, two grandchildren, and his sister Barbara Gehring. A memorial gathering is planned for August 24th, 3:00 p.m. at the UM Alumni Center in Ann Arbor. A reception will follow the gathering.
- Submitted by Peter Duren, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics.