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Robert T. Seeley


Ph.D., Mathematics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robert Seeley, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at UMass Boston, died peacefully at age 84 on November 30, 2016. He earned his undergraduate degree at Haverford College and his Ph. D. in Mathematics at MIT in 1959 with Alberto Calderón. He taught at Harvey Mudd College and Brandeis University, but after getting to know UMass Boston in 1972, he joined us as a full professor the following year. He retired in 2002. At UMass he was as interested in the beginners as in the math majors, so gladly taught the full range of courses. When students were ready for advanced work beyond what was available in the curriculum he cheerfully and regularly supervised independent study.

One of the great mathematical inventions of the 1960's was the theory of pseudo-differential operators. This theory made possible both the formulation (and proof) of the Atiyah-Singer theorem and "microlocal" techniques with which one could apply the tools of symplectic geometry and dynamical systems to problems in partial differential equation theory. The origins of microlocal analysis were the papers on "singular integral operators” of Calderón and Zygmund in the late 1950's, but it was Seeley’s work in the next decade that turned these ideas into the modern-day theory of pseudo-differential operators. Michael Atiyah, reviewing of Seeley's paper "Integro-differential operators on vector bundles", said "The general solution of the index problem given by the reviewer and I.M. Singer depends, in fact, on the results of this paper."

Bob Seeley was a deep, thoughtful kind man, a mainstay of the Quaker community in Cambridge, a world traveler who spent sabbaticals in Peru and Mexico, Italy and The Netherlands. He loved to sing and bike and run and ski (cross country). Visitors to his house in Newton enjoyed both his hospitality and the carpentry marvels he installed there to complement the furniture he built.

He is survived by Charlotte Seeley, his wife of 58 years, sister Rita Gadel, daughters Mara and Lauren, son Karl, children-in-law Jan, Blaise and Kate and eight grandchildren. He was predeceased by son Joe. A memorial service will be held on December 22, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. at the Friends Meeting at Cambridge, 5 Longfellow Park, Cambridge, MA 02138. Donations in his memory may be made to the Boston University Prison Education Program, where he taught mathematics after retiring from the university.

Recent Publications:

2009 Heat trace asymptotics with singular weight functions. Comm. Anal. Geom. 17 (2009), no. 3, 529--563, [van den Berg, M. and Gilkey, P. and Kirsten, K. and Seeley, R.]
2008 Heat content asymptotics with singular initial temperature distributions. J. Funct. Anal. 254 (2008), no. 12, 3093--3122, [van den Berg, M. and Gilkey, P. and Seeley, R.]
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