Department Chair and Distinguished Professor, had a childhood ambition to be an astronomer. Later interests in chemistry, physics and electronics led to his undergraduate major in Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. By graduation, the future was beckoning in mathematical terms and he enrolled in the graduate math program at Columbia, earning a Ph.D. in 1959. Discussing the evolution of his interests from theory to applications, Glimm says, I used to view mathematics as a fantastic, fascinating puzzle. Then I considered it a formal structure of great depth and beauty. Later I came to see it as a tremendously powerful tool for understanding the universe. Of course, all three views are valid. He notes that the use of computers has completely altered the role of mathematics within the sciences and within society, giving it a much more central position. Computers change the questions we ask in mathematics. Answers tend to be more precise and quantitative. Theories an now attack the deeply nonlinear problems that used to be intractable.
Glimm is well known for changing research fields. Why do mountain climbers keep choosing new peaks to climb? It keeps life interesting. He's noted for contributions to C*-algebras, quantum field theory, partial differential equations, fluid dynamics, scientific computing, and the modeling of petroleum reservoirs.
What does a mathematical career offer today's students? Glimm mentions the challenges, the important problems waiting to be solved. This is an exhilarating time to work in the subject. Computing opens doors into whole new realms. Who should be mathematical scientists? People who are creative, analytical, individualistic and determined.
Jim Glimm has previously been a professor at M.I.T., the Rockefeller University, and the Courant Institute of New York University. He holds numerous leadership positions in professional societies and is an editor of several journals. He thinks his work is fun. He also enjoys mountain hiking, and at lower altitudes, jogging and attending the opera.