Sad news via the FOM list today:

Published in Tennessean on Nov. 6, 2016

Bjarni Jónsson, originally of Draghals, Iceland, passed away in Cincinnati, OH on

Friday, September 30, 2016 at the age of 96. Beloved husband of the late Harriet P.

(nee Parkes) Jonsson. Devoted father of Eric (Kaye) Jonsson, Meryl (Bob) Runion Rose

and Kristin (Rick) Porotsky. Loving grandfather of Elisabeth (Terry) Winslow, David

Runion, and Brent, Gena, Aaron, Billy and Cole Porotsky. Former resident of Nashville,

Tennessee. He was Vanderbilt’s first Distinguished Professor of Mathematics. A leader

in his field and author of 89 technical papers, he received many commendations for his

work, including the Earl Sutherland Prize for Academic Research as well as the Knights

Cross awarded by the President of Iceland.

Please send donations in his honor to:

Bjarni Jonsson Research Prize

Department of Mathematics

1326 Stevenson Center

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, TN 37240.

Noted algebraist Bjarni Jónsson dies

by David Salisbury, Oct. 12, 2016

https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2016/10/12/noted-algebraist-bjarni-jonsson-dies/

Bjarni Jónsson, Vanderbilt’s first Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, died Sept.

30 at the age of 96.

Born in Iceland, Jónsson earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the

University of California-Berkeley and also received an honorary degree from the

University of Iceland. He was internationally recognized as a leading authority on

universal algebra, lattice theory and algebraic logic.

In his career, Jónsson authored 89 technical papers and served on the editorial board

of several major mathematics journals, including Algebra Universalis. He presented

numerous invited talks at mathematics conferences around the world. In 1974, he was an

invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians. In 2012 he was

elected an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society. He was also the

recipient of Vanderbilt’s Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor Award in 1974 and

the Earl Sutherland Prize for Achievement in Research in 1982.

“Bjarni Jónsson was a remarkable mathematician who made field-defining and path-

breaking contributions in universal algebra, lattice theory and algebraic logic.

Anyone who had the fortune to know him admired his integrity, kindness and immense

respect for colleagues and friends. His influence on my personal and mathematical life

has been enormous, and it is a great privilege that I have had the opportunity to work

with and learn from him,” said Professor Constantine Tsinakis, a long-term colleague

and a former chair of the mathematics department.

“To me Bjarni will always be a legend, who in his quiet, sincere, unassuming ways

continues to inspire uncountably many algebraists, raising questions and re-examining

areas that he feels would benefit from an algebraic approach,” wrote Peter Jipsen, one

of the doctoral students that Jónsson advised, on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

“While some mathematicians almost revel in stringing together long complex arguments,

Bjarni has constantly sought to simplify and illuminate the subjects dear to him,” the

professor of mathematics at Chapman University added.

Jónsson came to Vanderbilt in 1966 and taught here until his retirement in 1993. When

he arrived, mathematics was mostly an undergraduate teaching department. He was

instrumental in establishing the department’s graduate program, which presently ranks

among the top departments in the nation, according to the latest evaluation by the

National Research Council. Jónsson also formed a research group in algebra that

attracted mathematicians from around the world and contributed substantially to the

high research profile that the department currently enjoys.

Algebra is the study of mathematical objects and the rules for manipulating them.

Jónsson made his most important contributions in the area of universal algebra. It is

one of the most abstract subfields of algebra because it studies algebraic structures

in general, as opposed to specific classes of algebras, such as groups and fields. The

importance of his contributions is reflected by the fact that a number of mathematical

objects are named for him, including Jónsson and Jónsson-Tarski algebras, Jansson

cardinals, Jónsson terms, the Jónsson lemma and the Jónsson-Tarski duality.

During his tenure, Jónsson supervised 14 Ph.D. students. In letters they wrote for a

symposium in honor of his 70th birthday, which took place in Iceland in 1990, his

former students all expressed a deep appreciation for him as a “respected mathematical

guide and personal friend.”

One of the first students he supervised, Steven Monk, now professor emeritus at the

University of Washington, recalled advice that he received from Jónsson regarding

teaching: “Adventure is not in the guidebook and beauty is not on the map. The best

one can hope for is to be able to persuade some people to do some traveling on their

own.”

“Bjarni’s work and scholarly contributions will have a lasting legacy. His name will

forever be interwoven in the history of our department. We are honored to have had

him as a colleague,” noted the current department chair, Professor Mike Neamtu.

[Photo ©Steve Givant]