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# Gian-Carlo Rota

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Gian-Carlo Rota | |
---|---|

279px Rota in 1970. | |

Born |
Vigevano, Italy | April 27, 1932

Died |
April 18, 1999 Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA | (aged 66)

Residence | Italy, Ecuador, USA |

Fields | Mathematics, Philosophy |

Institutions |
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Los Alamos National Laboratory |

Alma mater |
Princeton University Yale University |

Doctoral advisor | Template:If empty |

Notable students | Richard Ehrenborg, Mark Haiman, Patrick O'Neil, Richard P. Stanley, Ray Magliozzi, William Chen, William Schmitt, Catherine Yan. Kenneth Holladay |

Notable awards | Leroy P. Steele Prize (1988) |

**Gian-Carlo Rota** (April 27, 1932 – April 18, 1999, known as **Juan Carlos Rota** to Spanish-speakers) was an Italian-born American mathematician and philosopher.

## Early life and education

Rota was born in Vigevano, Italy. His father, Giovanni, a prominent antifascist, was the brother of the composer Nino Rota and of the mathematician Rosetta, who was the wife of the writer Ennio Flaiano.^{[1]} Gian-Carlo's family left Italy when he was 13 years old, initially going to Switzerland.

Rota attended the Colegio Americano de Quito in Ecuador, and earned degrees at Princeton University and Yale University.

## Career

Much of Rota's career was spent as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he was and remains the only person ever to be appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics and Philosophy. Rota was also the Norbert Wiener Professor of Applied Mathematics.

In addition to his professorships at MIT, Rota held four honorary degrees, from the University of Strasbourg, France (1984); the University of L'Aquila, Italy (1990); the University of Bologna, Italy (1996); and Brooklyn Polytechnic University (1997).
From 1966 until his untimely death in 1999, Rota was a consultant at Los Alamos National Laboratory, frequently visiting to lecture, discuss, and collaborate, notably with his friend Stanislaw Ulam. He was also a consultant for the Rand Corporation (1966–71) and for the Brookhaven National Laboratory (1969–1973). Rota was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1982, was vice president of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) from 1995–97, and was a member of numerous other mathematical and philosophical organizations.^{[2]}

He taught a difficult but very popular course in probability. He also taught Applications of Calculus, differential equations, and Combinatorial Theory. His philosophy course in phenomenology was offered on Friday nights to keep the enrollment manageable. Among his many eccentricities, he would not teach without a can of Coca-Cola, and handed out prizes ranging from Hershey bars to pocket knives to students who asked questions in class or did well on tests.^{[3]}^{[4]}

Rota could be temperamental at times. For example, in 1978 he abruptly stopped teaching his probability course in mid-semester as a result of some survey responses stating that his teaching methods were ineffective. Greatly offended, he announced to the class that he had found someone else to teach the course for the rest of the semester and, as a parting shot, passed out a long and difficult take-home examination. A petition by the students resulted in his return to teaching the course a few days later.^{[citation needed]}

Rota began his career as a functional analyst, but switched to become a distinguished combinatorialist. His series of ten papers on the "Foundations of Combinatorics" in the 1960s is credited with making it a respectable branch of modern mathematics. He said that the one combinatorial idea he would like to be remembered for is the correspondence between combinatorial problems and problems of the location of the zeroes of polynomials.^{[5]} He worked on the theory of incidence algebras (which generalize the 19th-century theory of Möbius inversion) and popularized their study among combinatorialists, set the umbral calculus on a rigorous foundation, unified the theory of Sheffer sequences and polynomial sequences of binomial type, and worked on fundamental problems in probability theory. His philosophical work was largely in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.

## Death

Gian-Carlo Rota died, apparently in his sleep, at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His death was discovered after he failed to arrive in Philadelphia for lectures he had planned to present beginning on Monday, April 19, 1999. The Middlesex County (Mass.) Medical Examiner ruled the cause of Rota's death as artherosclerotic cardiac disease.^{[2]}

A reading room in MIT's Department of Mathematics is dedicated to Rota.

## See also

- Kallman–Rota inequality
- Rota's conjecture
- Rota's basis conjecture
- Rota–Baxter algebra
- List of American philosophers
- Joint spectral radius, introduced by Rota in the early 1960s

## Notes

**^**O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Gian-Carlo Rota",*MacTutor History of Mathematics archive*, University of St Andrews.- ^
^{a}^{b}"MIT professor Gian-Carlo Rota, mathematician and philosopher, is dead at 66". April 22, 1999. **^**Wesley T. Chan (December 5, 1997). "To Teach or Not To Teach: Professors Might Try a New Approach to Classes – Caring about Teaching".*The Tech***117**(63). Retrieved 2008-02-10.**^**"Gian-Carlo Rota".*The Tech***119**(21). April 23, 1999. Retrieved 2008-02-10.**^**Mathematics, Philosophy, and Artificial Intelligence: a dialogue with Gian-Carlo Rota and David Sharp at the Wayback Machine (archived August 11, 2007)

## External links

- Gian-Carlo Rota at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Gian-Carlo Rota",
*MacTutor History of Mathematics archive*, University of St Andrews. - Kung, Joseph; Rota, Gian-Carlo; Yan, Catherine (2009).
*Combinatorics: The Rota Way*. Cambridge Mathematical Library. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-73794-X. - The Forbidden City of Gian-Carlo Rota (a memorial site) at the Wayback Machine (archived June 30, 2007) This page at www.rota.org was not originally intended to be a memorial web site, but was created by Rota himself with the assistance of his friend Bill Chen in January 1999 while Rota was visiting Los Alamos National Laboratory.
- Mathematics, Philosophy, and Artificial Intelligence: a dialogue with Gian-Carlo Rota and David Sharp at the Wayback Machine (archived August 11, 2007)
- "Fine Hall in its golden age: Remembrances of Princeton in the early fifties" by Gian-Carlo Rota.
- Tribute page by Prof. Catherine Yan (Texas A&M University), a former student of Rota
- Scanned copy of Gian-Carlo Rota's and Kenneth Baclawski's Introduction to Probability and Random Processes manuscript in its 1979 version.
- Gian-Carlo Rota (1996).
*Indiscrete Thoughts*. Birkhäuser Boston. ISBN 0-8176-3866-0, ISBN 0-8176-3866-0; review at MAA.org - The Digital Footprint of Gian-Carlo Rota: International Conference in memory of Gian-Carlo Rota, organized by Ottavio D'Antona, Vincenzo Marra and Ernesto Damiani at the University of Milan (Italy)

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