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May 3, 2006

  Outstanding Faculty Recognized With Awards  

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Barbara Keyfitz


Barbara Keyfitz has her own equation for success.

And it includes supportive parents, a determination to excel and international recognition for her contributions to applied mathematics.

Thanks to that formula, Keyfitz, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Mathematics, has earned the University of Houston 2006 Esther Farfel Award, the highest honor UH bestows on a faculty member.

Keyfitz is the first female scientist to receive the award and the second person in her family to hold the honor. Her husband, Martin Golubitsky, Cullen Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and director of the Institute for Theoretical Engineering and Science, is the 1997 recipient.

“I knew I was nominated, but I was quite surprised to have been selected,” Keyfitz said. “I didn’t see myself in that class, definitely not in my husband’s class, but I think he would quietly disagree with me.”

Golubitsky not only disagrees, but also believes that Keyfitz is highly deserving of the honor.

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 and respect.”

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 interest.

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 of support.

“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 suit?

“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.”

Francine Parker
Staff writer

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