Photo by Thomas Shea
“I’m thrilled that Barbara was selected for the 2006
Esther Farfel Award,” Golubitsky said. “She has received
national and international recognition for her research and has
been extraordinary in her leadership in the mathematics community.
It is so exciting to have Barbara’s efforts rewarded by the
University of Houston, an institution whose mission we both love
A native of Canada, Keyfitz, who never considered herself as a
role model, is a female pioneer in the field of mathematics. In
2004, she became the first woman director of Canada’s Fields
Institute, which brings together mathematicians from around the
world to conduct research and formulate problems of broad mutual
At the Fields Institute, Keyfitz continues her work in applied
mathematics, particularly in the study of nonlinear partial differential
equations, such as those arising in the study of fluid flow or transonic
shock waves, creating tools to use in analyzing models.
In addition to her responsibilities as the institute’s director,
Keyfitz juggles her UH duties, which include teaching Finite Math
with Applications — a distance education and distance teaching
class — and advising postdoctoral students this semester.
One professor summed her activities outside of research in a letter
“Barbara has been a thesis adviser, postdoctoral adviser
and collaborator for a whole generation of mathematicians; she is
also involved in various national and international committees that
promote mathematics and help young mathematicians worldwide. It
is clear that Barbara is a leader on the contemporary mathematical
scene,” her supporter noted.
Keyfitz’s love for mathematics and commitment to students
stem from her childhood and, perhaps, genes. Her father, Nathan
Keyfitz, worked for 23 years as a statistician with Statistics Canada.
He was a professor at the University of Chicago, the University
of California at Berkeley and Harvard University.
Keyfitz says her father was influential in her life, remembering
when he gave her and her brother math problems to calculate when
she was six years old.
“My father never suggested to me that I would not be taken
seriously as a woman mathematician,” Keyfitz said. “My
parents had faith that I would succeed.”
And, succeed she did. Keyfitz earned a bachelor of science degree
in mathematics from the University of Toronto and a master’s
and doctorate in mathematics from New York University. She held
positions at Columbia, Princeton and Arizona State universities
before joining the UH faculty as associate professor in 1983.
She has written articles in nearly 40 journals, edited two books
and served on the editorial boards of numerous journals. Keyfitz
also made short visits to such institutions as Chinese University
of Hong Kong’s Institute of Mathematics and Taiwan’s
National Center for Theoretical Sciences.
Keyfitz participates in many professional organizations, serving
as an officer of the International Council for Industrial and Applied
Mathematics, reviewer and adviser to the Canadian Natural Sciences
and Engineering Council and president of the Association for Women
in Mathematics. She also is an American Association for the Advancement
of Science fellow and chair of its mathematics section.
“The University of Houston is where I built my career,”
Keyfitz said. “UH and the department were good to me.”
Now that Keyfitz and Golubitsky have started a great Farfel tradition,
the question is will their children, Elizabeth and Alexander, follow
“Our daughter has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics
and computer science, and is now pursuing a career in computer science
— but not research,” Keyfitz said. “Our son majored
in political science and is now in law school. He was quite fond
of math — particularly a statistics course he took in college
— but not enough to make a career of it.”