When Lloyd “Nick” Trefethen arrived earlier this month, it was nearly 50 years to the day since he first stepped foot on Harvard’s campus as a first-year undergraduate student.
This time around, his move to Cambridge, after completing a 26-year career on the University of Oxford faculty, is to become Professor of Applied Mathematics in Residence at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
A gifted teacher who has been lauded for his masterful and elegant lectures, Trefethen will augment the core faculty for the fourth most popular major at Harvard College, with more than 400 concentrators.
Trefethen is a renowned expert in numerical analysis, sometimes referred to as scientific computing, a field that develops the algorithms that are foundational for many areas of science and engineering. The laboratory remains important, Trefethen notes, but these days more experimentation is done on the computer with numerical methods than hands-on in laboratories. In effect, numerical analysis and computation have joined theory and experiment as the third pillar in 21st century scientific inquiry.
Sub-areas of numerical analysis include linear algebra, differential equations, approximation theory, and optimization. These disciplines are at the heart of the machine learning revolution and play an increasingly important role in applications ranging from weather prediction to the design of computer chips.
Trefethen is widely admired as an eloquent and prolific writer. He has published some 130 journal articles, 40 essays, and authored eight books. An elected fellow of the National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, he served as president of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and as editor and associate editor for a number of journals.
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