History of Numerical Analysis


Oral Histories





Eugene Isaacson

Oral History (pdf)

Interviewer Philip J. Davis

Eugene Isaacson spent his entire educational life in New York City: he attended public schools in Brooklyn (where had an outstanding high school math teacher, Edna Kramer), did his undergraduate studies at City College and his graduate work at NYU.  In 1949 he completed his doctoral dissertation on the motion of water waves over a sloped beach, which grew out of the interest of J. J. Stoker, Kurt Friedrichs, Fritz John, and Hans Lewy in wave motions and was supported by the Office of Naval Research.  His first computing experience came on one of the early UNIVAC I machines purchased by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); he preceded John Wheeler (and later Edward Teller) as the project chief for this machine.  During World War II, Isaacson worked on the Mathematical Tables Project and joined the Courant Institute in 1944, where he spent the rest of his career.  Despite an initial interest in point-set topology, Isaacson became interested in and did his most productive work in applied mathematics.  He led a team to help the Harvard computing laboratory discover the computational needs for scientific work while it was developing (along with IBM) the Mark 1 computer.  Isaacson is perhaps best known to many for the textbook he coauthored with Herb Keller, Analysis of Numerical Methods, and for his time as editor of Mathematics of Computation and the SIAM Journal of Numerical Analysis.  He has collaborated with a variety of scholars including Gideon Zwas, Eli Turkel, Zipora Alterman, David Houghton, and Akira Kasahara.

Key words: Wave motion, UNIVAC, Mathematics Tables Project, Mark I

Funding Agency:  Office of Naval Research, Atomic Energy Commission

Time frame: 1940's, 1950's, 1960's

People: J.J. Stoker, Kurt Friedrichs, Hans Lewy, Richard Courant, Mina Rees, John Wheeler, Milton Abramowitz, Gertrude Blanch, Herb Keller, Cathleen Morawetz

Location: New York University, Courant Institute, Harvard University

Citation: Eugene Isaacson Oral history interview by Philip J. Davis, 10 September, 2003, Courant Institute, New York. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, PA

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