Brief History of the Division

Brief History of the Division

Professor Jacob D. Tamarkin from Russia, Professor William Prager from Germany, and Dean Roland G. D. Richardson of the Graduate SchoolProfessor Jacob D. Tamarkin from Russia, Professor William Prager from Germany, and Dean Roland G. D. Richardson of the Graduate SchoolThe Division of Applied Mathematics had its origin in a program of Advanced Instruction and Research in Mechanics, established in the summer of 1941, on the recommendation of a committee of the National Research Council.  This Council expressed its concerns regarding the lack of applied mathematicians in the United States, and the effect this might produce on the war effort.  R. G. D. Richardson, Dean of the Graduate School and Secretary of the American Mathematical Society, succeeded in establishing such a program at Brown.

Already a significant part of the European scientific community had fled Europe due to the persecutions of World War II, and the times made inevitable the necessity to establish a premier program in the United States, where these notable scientists could flourish and collaborate.  Among them was William Prager, an eminent German applied mathematician, whom Dean Richardson arranged to come to Brown in order to lead the program.

During the fall of 1941, approximately 30 students attended, but in the following summer the enrollment rose dramatically to 110 students.  Many distinguished faculty from around the world flocked to Brown University.  On the recommendation of a committee appointed by Brown’s President Henry M. Wriston, and including Theodore von Karman, Marston Morse and Warren Weaver, the very successful program became known as the Graduate Division of Applied Mathematics, established in May, 1946.  In 1954 the undergraduate curriculum leading to the Bachelor of Science was instituted, and its first degrees were conferred in 1956.      

The early program in applied mathematics focused on solid and fluid mechanics, electromagnetic theory, mathematical methods in applied physics, numerical analysis and probability theory—the principal interests of the faculty for many years. Since that time, the interests of the faculty have been extended as the Division has maintained a leading role in the development of applied mathematics.  In 1964, the Center for Dynamical Systems was established to coordinate the research of a large group of people working in ordinary and partial differential equations and their applications. More recently, strong programs of research in scientific computing and in applied probability and statistics have been established.  

Historical resources

A brief yet fascinating account of the history of applied mathematics is chronicled by Martha Mitchell in her superb collection of historical works entitled, “Encyclopedia Brunoniana." 

In addition, the Division is deeply grateful for the research work of Clare Kim, a graduate from Brown University (Class of 2011) who wrote her senior thesis about the history of the Division of Applied Mathematics.  It is entitled, "Math Derived, Math Applied:  The Establishment of Brown University’s Division of Applied Mathematics, 1940-1950." 

We also offer several articles composed by Professor Wendell Fleming, who records his memories of life as a young mathematician, as well as some research work 

Remembrances of Life as a Young Husband and Mathematician

Remembrances of My Career at Brown University, 1958 - 1978

Geometric Measure Theory at Brown in the 1960s