PIMS Celebrates Rufus Bowen

  • Date: 12/01/2017

Rufus Bowen (1947-1978), Professor of Mathematics at UC Berkeley, was a rising star in dynamical systems before is sudden passing at the far too young age of 31. Over a career of only ten years, he made an enormous number of profound, deep, and lasting contributions to areas of the subject that are remain active today.



The Current Trends in Dynamical Systems and the Mathematical Legacy of Rufus Bowen conference was attended by almost 200 mathematicians young and old from all over the world, articulating and celebrating Bowen’s mathematical legacy. Lectures were given by nineteen of the world’s leading experts in dynamics, including Fields Medalist Steve Smale, several ICM speakers and Fellows of various societies. Most lectures connected directly to Bowen’s work and demonstrated the vitality of his results and ideas in today’s research. There was also a great deal of positive energy and sharing of mathematical ideas in less-structured activities including two poster sessions with presentations by thirty-two young dynamicists, and three parallel problem sessions, each focusing on a subarea of dynamics, on each of two days.

A unique feature of the conference was a focus on Bowen’s private notebook in which he had catalogued 157 open problems. The Notebook was briefly referenced in a footnote to Bowen’s last paper which was posthumously published in 1979, but the Notebook itself was never published or widely distributed. In November, 2016, with the help of PIMS’ IT staff, the Notebook was published online in an interactive website where users can input comments on progress, discuss new problems and offer  new directions to tackle any of the still-open problems noted by Rufus Bowen: bowen.pims.math.ca. The conference served as an impetus for the community to contribute to the Notebook. Most of the problems have now received comments, and the Notebook will serve as a long-lasting living legacy of Bowen’s mathematics. In addition to one conference plenary session on the Notebook, a large number of problems from the Notebook were discussed in the context of the problem sessions.

Finally, the conference included a remembrance lunch which celebrated, through emotional anecdotes, a photo slide show, laughter and sadness, Rufus Bowen as a naturally kind person with a warm sense of humour and an inspiring figure to so many young mathematicians of the 1970s. In the words of those lucky enough to have known him: “He made us better people.”

The conference was the largest ever in the history of PIMS with at least 19 countries represented by the 200 attending participants. Rufus Bowen left an indelible legacy in the world of mathematics, and it was a privilege to celebrate it.