Cathleen Synge Morawetz

Pure and Applied Mathematics

Pioneering advances in partial differential equations and wave propagation math used in aerodynamics, acoustics and optics

"Maybe I became a mathematician because I was so crummy at housework."

Morawetz's father was the mathematician John Lighton Synge, and her mother, Eleanor Mabel Allen Synge, also had some training as a mathematician. While obtaining her BA, Morawetz did applied mathematics for the war effort. She was the second woman President of the American Mathematical Society 1995-96, the first woman Director of the Courant Institute at New York University 1984-88 and was presented with the National Medal of Science by the President of the United States, 1998, the highest scientific honour in the country. Her research has focused on the wave equation with its dual representation of light as waves or as streams of particles. In the 1950s and 60s she produced a body of work concerning nonlinear partial differential equations. Her ingenious insights ultimately led to the improved design of wings for supersonic aircraft, among other applications. Recently, her interests are divided between working in fluid dynamics, mainly the mathematics of transonic flow, and on the propagation of waves. Video of Morawetz Speaking.

Sources: Article by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson at St. Andrews University Math Biography pages; Association for Women in Mathematics; photo from Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

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