1981 Lecturer: Olga Tausskey-Todd

The Many Aspects of Pythagorean Triangles

Olga Tausskey-Todd was born on August 30, 1906 in Olmutz (now Olomouc), which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now in the Czech Republic. She received her doctorate from the University of Vienna after studying with the number theorist Philip Furtwangler. She then held instructorships at the University of Vienna and the University of Gottingen, where she assisted in the editing of Hilbert’s Collected Works. During 1934-1937, she studied on fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge University, where she received an MA. She went to Bryn Mawr College in l934-l935, while Emmy Noether was there.
In 1937, Taussky-Todd worked at the University of London; where she met and married the mathematical analyst John Todd. At the beginning of the Second World War, they moved to Belfast, where she lectured at Queen’s University and began to focus on the two areas of matrix theory–generalizations of matrix commutativity and integral matrices–that were to occupy much of her career. She spent the latter part of the war in London, working on numerical applied mathematics. After the war, she did mathematical research for the National Bureau of Standards. In 1957, she started at the California Institute of Technology, where she currently holds the position of professor emeritus. She also spent a semester at the Courant Institute and a semester as a Fulbright Professor at the University of Vienna.
Taussky-Todd has received many honors, including the Ford Prize for an article on sums of squares, published in 1970 in the American Mathematical Monthly. In 1978, she received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, the highest scientific honor bestowed by the Austrian government. She was awarded an honorary DSc by the University of Southern California in 1988. A member of the Austrian and Bavarian Academies of Science, she is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a former Vice-President of the American Mathematical Society. She served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Bulletin of the AMS. In 1993, the International Linear Algebra Society established a lecture series to honor the contributions to the field of linear algebra made by Taussky-Todd and her husband.
Taussky-Todd has written over 200 research papers and works in the areas of algebraic number theory, integral matrices, and matrices in algebra and analysis. Her Noether Lecture was published in expanded form as “The many aspects of Pythagorean triangles,” (Lin. Alg. Appl., 43(1982):285-295).
While growing up, Taussky-Todd was especially interested in grammar and essay writing, and she also wrote music and poetry. In high school, her interest turned to science, especially astronomy, and finally to mathematics. In an essay in the book Mathematical People (Birkhauser, 1985), she recalls that the summer after her last year of high school, a family friend heard of her desire to continue her studies in mathematics. “[This woman] was decades older and mentioned that she too had hoped to study mathematics,” writes Taussky-Todd. “That was more than I could take. In a flash, I saw myself decades older saying exactly the same words to a young woman. It seemed unbearable.” By summer’s end, it had been decided that she should begin studies in mathematics at the University of Vienna. “When I was sufficiently mature to think about my career, and this came to me rather early, I knew that I was dedicated to an intellectual life, with science, in particular mathematics, my main interest,” she writes. “But it seems to me that both in the work of others and in my own I look for beauty, and not only for achievement.”