Celebratio Mathematica

J. Hyam Rubinstein


Biographical sketch of Hyam Rubinstein

by Joel Hass and William H. Jaco

J. (Joachim) Hyam Ru­bin­stein was born March 7, 1948, in Mel­bourne, the third of six chil­dren, all boys. His fath­er Tony was born near Bia­lystock in Po­land where his fath­er (also Joachim Hyam) had a lumber­yard, and was also known as a great schol­ar and ran a Yid­dish news­pa­per. When the fam­ily emig­rated to Aus­tralia in the 1930s, Tony be­came a pub­lish­er and print­er who op­er­ated York Press, ex­pand­ing the loc­al Jew­ish com­munity and Yid­dish news­pa­per for more than thirty years.

Hyam and his broth­ers were strongly in­flu­enced by their moth­er Ger­trude Ra­binov, who left Rus­sia with her par­ents for Palestine around 1900 and then moved to Aus­tralia dur­ing World War I. Ger­trude was a bril­liant stu­dent who placed first in the Vic­tor­ia State school ex­am­in­a­tions in sci­ence, and who entered uni­versity at age 16 (she was asked to re­peat year 12, to avoid en­ter­ing uni­versity at a too young age of 15). She com­pleted an MS de­gree at Mel­bourne Uni­versity in phys­ic­al chem­istry, and then de­voted her­self to her fam­ily. She en­cour­aged her sons to study sci­ence and math­em­at­ics, and later com­pleted a second Uni­versity of Mel­bourne MS de­gree in zo­ology. Work­ing as an as­sist­ant at the De­part­ment of Psy­chi­atry, she later pub­lished about a dozen pa­pers con­cern­ing the ge­net­ic basis of men­tal dis­eases, es­pe­cially schizo­phrenia.

All of Hyam’s broth­ers ex­hib­ited math­em­at­ic­ally abil­ity, in ad­di­tion to be­ing en­thu­si­ast­ic chess play­ers. The old­est, Mar­tin, stud­ied math, went to Berke­ley at age 19 and then to a ca­reer at IBM in White Plains, NY. The next old­est, Dav­id, got de­grees in phys­ics and en­gin­eer­ing, but sadly be­came schizo­phren­ic. After Hyam was Jef­frey who was a pi­an­ist, of­ten play­ing for the bal­let. Si­mon learned stat­ist­ics, be­came a suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sion­al gam­bler and also a print­er. Ian was the young­est and went in­to busi­ness with a side­line as a golf in­struct­or.

Even be­fore be­com­ing a teen­ager, Hyam re­ceived highest re­cog­ni­tion for aca­dem­ics, and for math­em­at­ics in par­tic­u­lar. In 1959, at age 11, he was awar­ded the John Braith­waite Schol­ar­ship. He entered Mel­bourne Boys High School, and at age 17 placed first on the Vic­tor­ia State list of ma­tric­u­la­tion-ex­hib­i­tion win­ners, top­ping the gen­er­al ex­hib­i­tion, with ex­hib­i­tions in cal­cu­lus, ap­plied math­em­at­ics, and phys­ics, and win­ning the B.H.P. Ma­tric­u­la­tion Prize. He gradu­ated from Mel­bourne Boys High School in 1966, win­ning the prize for pure math­em­at­ics, phys­ics and chem­istry in his fi­nal year.

Hyam went on to Mon­ash Uni­versity, where he ma­jored in pure math­em­at­ics and stat­ist­ics, and earned a B.Sc. Hon­ors (First Class) in 1969. He fol­lowed his older broth­er Mar­tin, ob­tain­ing a Ful­bright trav­el­ling schol­ar­ship to at­tend the Berke­ley cam­pus of the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia, plan­ning to do gradu­ate work in al­geb­ra­ic to­po­logy. At Berke­ley, Hyam was in­flu­enced by the work of John Stallings in geo­met­ric to­po­logy and be­came a stu­dent of Stallings. While at Berke­ley, he was sup­por­ted by an IBM Fel­low­ship and re­ceived three dis­tinc­tions in the qual­i­fy­ing ex­ams. He com­pleted his thes­is and was awar­ded a Ph.D. in Math­em­at­ics in 1974. His thes­is was titled, “Iso­top­ies of In­com­press­ible Sur­faces in Three Di­men­sion­al Man­i­folds.”

Hyam mar­ried Sue Bern­shaw in 1970 just be­fore leav­ing for the US. Sue had com­pleted an hon­ours de­gree in bio­chem­istry at Mon­ash, and later did a gradu­ate de­gree in ac­count­ing, work­ing as com­pany sec­ret­ary for Hyam’s fath­er. Hyam and Sue de­cided to re­turn to Aus­tralia upon the com­ple­tion of his doc­tor­ate. Hyam ac­cep­ted a postdoc­tor­al ap­point­ment at the Uni­versity of Mel­bourne. Fol­low­ing this, in 1978, he was ap­poin­ted as a lec­turer and re­ceived ten­ure at Mel­bourne Uni­versity in 1980. Le­on Si­mon held a chair in the De­part­ment at the time, and when he left Mel­bourne for ANU in 1980 he sug­ges­ted that Hyam ap­ply for his chair. This suc­ceeded, and in 1982 he be­came a Pro­fess­or of Math­em­at­ics at Mel­bourne at the age of 34. As of 2014 he con­tin­ues in that po­s­i­tion. He has also been a mem­ber or Vis­it­ing Pro­fess­or at the Math­em­at­ic­al Re­search In­sti­tute, Berke­ley, the In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Study, Prin­ceton, Stan­ford, the Tech­nion, Ok­lahoma State Uni­versity, Uni­versity of Par­is VI, the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia at Dav­is, and the Math­em­at­ic­al Sci­ences Re­search Centre at Tsinghua Uni­versity.

Fol­low­ing a sug­ges­tion of Le­on Si­mon, Hyam and Jon Pitts, a geo­met­ric meas­ure the­or­ist at Texas A&M Uni­versity, began a col­lab­or­a­tion that in­teg­rated the sweep-outs and min­im­ax meth­ods of geo­met­ric ana­lys­is in­to 3-man­i­fold to­po­logy. Com­bin­at­or­i­al ver­sions of these ideas played a key role in Hyam’s later work on al­most nor­mal sur­faces and 3-sphere re­cog­ni­tion al­gorithms.

This was fol­lowed by many suc­cess­ful col­lab­or­a­tions: on PL min­im­al sur­face the­ory and on 3-man­i­fold tri­an­gu­la­tions with Wil­li­am Jaco, on poly­hed­ral dif­fer­en­tial geo­metry with Iain Aitchis­on, and on the struc­ture of Hee­gaard split­tings with Marty Schar­le­mann. He worked with Joel Hass and Peter Scott on ap­plic­a­tions of min­im­al sur­face the­ory in 3-man­i­folds, and with Ben Bur­ton, Craig Hodg­son and Stephan Till­mann on con­nec­tions between the geo­metry and to­po­logy of 3-man­i­folds. In the late 1980s, Hyam began work­ing with Doreen Thomas on shortest net­works, lead­ing to a break­through on the Stein­er ra­tio con­jec­ture. A group emerged from this dir­ec­tion work­ing on the design of shafts in un­der­ground mines. Hyam’s or­gan­iz­a­tion­al and sci­entif­ic skills com­bined, and he be­came the Man­aging Dir­ect­or of the Min­e­Optima group, which has pro­duced soft­ware ap­ply­ing new op­tim­iz­a­tion al­gorithms for the design of un­der­ground mine ac­cess net­works.

Hyam also has a not­able col­lab­or­a­tion with his son Ben Ru­bin­stein, who ob­tained a Ph.D. in com­puter sci­ence at Berke­ley. This col­lab­or­a­tion has brought geo­metry and to­po­logy in­to the sci­ence of ma­chine learn­ing, which is Ben’s spe­cialty. Ben began a ten­ured po­s­i­tion in the Uni­versity of Mel­bourne Com­puter Sci­ence De­part­ment in 2013.

Hyam’s work has earned wide­spread re­cog­ni­tion. He is a Fel­low of the Aus­trali­an Academy of Sci­ences, the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety, and the Aus­trali­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety. He was awar­ded the Han­nan Medal by the Aus­trali­an Academy of Sci­ences for ex­cep­tion­al math­em­at­ic­al re­search and the Aus­trali­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety’s George Szekeres Medal for out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions to the math­em­at­ic­al sci­ences. He served as pres­id­ent of the Aus­trali­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety, Chair of the Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee for the Math­em­at­ic­al Sci­ences, and Chair of the Work­ing Party of the Na­tion­al Stra­tegic Re­view of Math­em­at­ic­al Sci­ences Re­search in Aus­tralia.

Hyam is cur­rently a Pro­fess­or in the De­part­ment of Math­em­at­ics and Stat­ist­ics at the Uni­versity of Mel­bourne in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. His son Ben and daugh­ter-in-law Ju­liet have two chil­dren Ella and Liam. Ju­liet holds a Ph.D. in Elec­tric­al En­gin­eer­ing from Berke­ley, com­plet­ing the fam­ily con­nec­tion to Cal.