Celebratio Mathematica

Benedict H. Gross

Dick Gross testimonial

by David Dorman

I first met Dick in the au­tumn of 1977. We over­lapped that aca­dem­ic year. I was a spe­cial stu­dent in math­em­at­ics at Har­vard and Dick was a gradu­ate stu­dent in the math de­part­ment. I was re­l­at­ively new to math­em­at­ics. I had a de­gree in chem­istry and had worked as an en­vir­on­ment­al en­gin­eer from 1974–77. I was in the pro­cess of chan­ging from chem­istry to math­em­at­ics. My in­tent was even­tu­ally to go to gradu­ate school in math­em­at­ics and, I hoped, to teach at the col­lege level. I was at­tend­ing Har­vard to gain a sol­id found­a­tion in math­em­at­ics so I could reach my goal.

For me it was an ex­cit­ing time to be at Har­vard. The at­mo­sphere in the de­part­ment was elec­tric. There was buzz all around the de­part­ment about el­lipt­ic curves. John Tate’s pa­per, “The arith­met­ic of el­lipt­ic curves” [e1], came out in 1974 and “Mod­u­lar curves and the Ei­s­en­stein ideal” by Barry Mazur [e2] had just ap­peared. Both Tate and Mazur had lots of gradu­ate stu­dents at that time. Dick was a stu­dent of Tate and was fin­ish­ing his thes­is that year. Tate was teach­ing a course in ab­stract al­gebra that I was tak­ing. He was to be away at a con­fer­ence for a week and Dick was filling in for him. This is how I got to meet Dick. He was an in­spir­ing teach­er. He was clev­er, had a won­der­ful touch in in­tro­du­cing new ideas, and had a knack for choos­ing just the right ex­amples to il­lus­trate im­port­ant points. It was fun to see him teach.

Little did I know then that Dick would even­tu­ally be my thes­is ad­visor while I was at Brown. Dick came to Brown after a stint at Prin­ceton. His joint work with Don Za­gi­er on sin­gu­lar mod­uli and Hee­gn­er points was about to be pub­lished. There was con­sid­er­able ex­cite­ment in the air and it was en­joy­able to see that un­fold and be a (very) small part of it.

Dick in­tro­duced me to the in­tric­a­cies of his work and to those of Za­gi­er’s. He ment­ored me, taught me and poin­ted me in the right dir­ec­tion. He even pushed me when ne­ces­sary and made cer­tain that I stayed on tar­get and got the job done. While I learned a great deal of math­em­at­ics from him, per­haps the most im­port­ant thing I learned was how to help and guide stu­dents as they en­counter and struggle with new ideas. He taught me how to nur­ture growth and have fun do­ing it. I was grate­ful then. I am more grate­ful now.