John Hector McDonald (1874 - 1953)

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Birthplace: Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Death: Died
Managed by: Martin Eriksen
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About John Hector McDonald

John Hector McDonald, Mathematics: Berkeley

1874-1953 Professor Emeritus One obtains a picture of John Hector McDonald from the autobiography which was appended to his doctoral dissertation, “On the System of a Binary Cubic and Quadratic and the Reduction of Hyperelliptic Integrals of Genus Two to Elliptic Integrals by a Transformation of the Fourth Order”: “I was born on the 11th day of December, 1874, at Toronto, Canada. I attended the public schools of Toronto for four years, the high school for two years, and the University of Toronto for four years, graduating in 1895 with the degree of A.B. In 1896 I entered the University of Chicago as a student of mathematics and astronomy, and studied ten quarters. I received instruction in mathematics from Professors Moore, Bolza, and Maschke, and in astronomy from Doctors Laves and Moulton. My dissertation was carried on with Professor Bolza. I feel under a deep obligation to all the teachers named, but particularly to Professors Moore and Bolza for the continued and varied assistance which they gave me throughout my whole term of graduate study.”

Doctor McDonald came to the University of California, Berkeley, upon appointment as Instructor in Mathematics, in January, 1902, became Professor of Mathematics in 1927, and retired as Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, in 1945. He passed away on July 4, 1953, after a short illness.

Professor McDonald had a profound and broad knowledge of the entire field of mathematics. His instruction was conducted on the highest level of scholarship; his graduate

― 99 ― courses were characterized by a perennial freshness, since he always developed his subject from a new and independent point of view. He was always helpful to students, and colleagues likewise sought his advice on research problems in varied fields. During the two world wars he contributed his skill in applied mathematics to engineers for the solution of vital ballistic and air-foil problems. Professor McDonald's publications were mainly on theory of numbers, Bessel's functions, transformations of elliptic integrals, and on differential equations. They appeared in Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, and Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. This gifted mathematician withheld much of his research from publication, but his varied interests found expression in many doctoral dissertations.

For many years it was his great pleasure to visit annually with his revered teacher, Oskar Bolza. His last visit, in 1933, is worthy of special note. Professor Bolza had resumed lecturing at his old University of Freiburg, Germany, and finally retired in 1933 at the age of seventy-six. Then Professor McDonald spent several weeks with Professor Bolza, and the two took long walks daily during which they discussed again the subject which had always engaged their interest, the transformation of hyperelliptic into elliptic integrals by transformations of specified degrees. At McDonald's request, Bolza renewed his research in this field and succeeded in completing the solution of a problem which had long interested him. Bolza's paper on this subject was published in the Mathematische Annalen, 1935, and included several references to the work of McDonald.

In 1944, Professor McDonald was married to Sophia Levy, Professor of Mathematics. Her field of theoretical astronomy fell within the range of his interest in analytical dynamics and celestial mechanics. The colleagues who were privileged to

― 100 ― have insight into his character, his intellectual power, and his artistic sensitiveness are grateful to Mrs. McDonald for the comfort and happiness which her devotion brought to his later years. He enjoyed nine years of study in retirement. His most recent readings were in the theories of probability, statistics, and topology, continuing without interruption to the day before he became ill. His colleague, Professor Griffith C. Evans, said of him, “Fortunate is a man who enjoys his intellectual pursuits throughout his entire life.”

V. F. Lenzen T. Buck G. D. Louderback

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John H. McDonald's Timeline

December 11, 1874
Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Age 69
July 4, 1953
Age 78