“Clebsch took notice of me”: Olaus Henrici and surface models.

Barrow-Green, June (2015). “Clebsch took notice of me”: Olaus Henrici and surface models. In: Mathematisiches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach Report, European Mathematical Society, Zürich, Switzerland, 2015(47) pp. 22–25.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4171/OWR/2015/47


The (Danish born) German mathematician Olaus Henrici (1840–1919), having spent a short time as an apprentice engineer, began his mathematical studies in 1859 in Karlsruhe where he came under the influence of Clebsch, as he later recalled:

“Of greater importance to me was the fact that Clebsch took notice of me. He induced me to devote myself exclusively to Mathematics. During the three months summer vacation in 1860 I remained in Karlsruhe earning a little money by private teaching. I was honoured by seeing much of Clebsch. Practically every morning I called for him at 10 o’clock for a long walk during which much Mathematics was talked. It was only later that I realised how very much I had learned during these lessons without paper or blackboard.” [1, p.71]

With recommendations from Clebsch, Henrici went to Heidelberg to study with Hesse and in 1863 he took a PhD in algebraic geometry before moving to Berlin to attend the lectures of Weierstrass and Kronecker. Unable to make a living in Germany, he moved to London in 1865 to work with a friend on some engineering problems. The enterprise was not successful so he turned to mathematics tutoring and continued with his mathematical research. Through Hesse he obtained an introduction to Sylvester, and through Sylvester he got to know Cayley, Hirst and Clifford. In 1870 he succeeded Hirst as the Professor of Pure Mathematics at University College, and in 1880, on the death of Clifford, he took over the chair of Applied Mathematics. Four years later, he was appointed as the founding professor of Mathematics and Mechanics at the newly formed Central Technical College where he established a Laboratory of Mechanics, a position he retained until he retired in 1911.

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