In Memory of Ulf Grenander

In Memory of Ulf Grenander


It is with great sadness that we write to report that Ulf Grenander (L. Herbert Ballou University Professor Emeritus) passed away on May 12, 2016.

Professor Grenander received his PhD from Stockholm University in 1950. After holding positions at Stockholm University, the University of Chicago, and the University of California at Berkeley, he moved permanently to Brown in 1966 as the L. Herbert Ballou University Professor. He advised 22 PhD students and wrote 14 books and more than 100 papers. He received numerous awards and honors, including election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, The Royal Academy of Sciences of Sweden, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He was a recipient of the Arnberger Prize of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Sweden and an Honorary D.Sc. degree from the University of Chicago. He served as a member of the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee and was an Arrhenius Fellow, a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, a Guggenheim Fellow, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society of London.

Professor Grenander was known for his seminal contributions to time series analysis and to the theory of high-dimensional statistical inference, and for his pattern theory, which he called “the intellectual adventure of my life.” He developed pathbreaking methods for modeling stochastic systems and pioneered the use of Monte Carlo computational methods in Bayesian statistics. And he indulged a lifelong interest in applications, often with spectacular results, in diverse fields including computer vision and signal processing, the actuarial sciences, and the computer-aided diagnosis of abnormal anatomical structures. 

In lasting recognition of his extraordinary influence and scientific achievements, the American Mathematical Society has established a fully funded endowment for the “Ulf Grenander Prize in Stochastic Theory and Modeling.”

Professor Grenander inspired his students and colleagues with his sweeping scientific vision, the breadth of his mathematical skills, and the sheer force of his creativity. His impact on the Division of Applied Mathematics and Brown can still be felt through the strong pattern theory group that he founded decades ago.

He will be remembered and missed by his many colleagues and former students.

For those who would like to learn more about Professor Grenander's life, a fascinating article was published in Statistical Science (2009), entitled, "A conversation with Ulf Grenander," written by Nitis Mukhopadhyay, Professor of Statistics at the University of Connecticut.  This biographical piece records an interview with Professor Grenander and his wife, Paj, which took place in their home in Providence, RI, and offers a delightfully transparent window into Professor Grenander's life and mathematical genius.  In addition, you are invited to read a commemorative article from SIAM News, published in 2004, written in honor of Ulf Grenander's 80th birthday.