Alexander Oppenheim

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Alexander Oppenheim
Born February 4, 1903
Salford, United Kingdom
Died December 13, 1997 (age 94)
Henley-on-Thames, United Kingdom
Residence United Kingdom
United States
Nationality British
Fields Mathematician
Alma mater University of Oxford
University of Chicago
Doctoral advisor GH Hardy
L.E. Dickson
Known for Diophantine Approximation
Influences J.E. Littlewood
Influenced Grigory Margulis

Sir Alexander Oppenheim, OBE FRSE PMN (4 February 1903 – 13 December 1997) was a British mathematician. In mathematics, his most notable contribution is his Oppenheim conjecture.

Early Life and Mathematical Work[edit]

Oppenheim was born on 4 February 1903 in Salford, England. He attended Manchester Grammar School, receiving a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. While at the University of Oxford, Oppenheim was captain of the chess team. Upon graduation, after being awarded the bachelor's and master's, Oppenheim was awarded a Commonwealth Fellowship to study at Princeton University and The University of Chicago, where he completed a doctorate in 1930 under L.E. Dickson.[1] Oppenheim’s research focused on the ergodic properties of actions of subgroups of semisimple Lie groups. In 1929, Oppenheim's conjecture was published and presented to The National Academy of Sciences. In 1930, Oppenheim was awarded the Ph.D. at The University of Chicago, after defending his thesis, "Minima of Indefinite Quadratic Quaternary Forms". Oppenheim was awarded a second doctorate, D.Sc. from University of Oxford for additional academic work.

Academic and Later Life[edit]

After graduating, Oppenheim took up lectureship at Edinburgh University in Scotland and then to the surprise of many, he left Edinburgh for the Islamic Raffles College in Malaysia. Oppenheim was captured in Singapore by the Japanese during World War II and was held as a POW in the Changi Camp where he suffered greatly. Oppenheim fled Singapore and pursued research in Switzerland at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and at the ETH. Later, Oppenheim played a key role in the merging of Raffles College with King Edward VII College of Medicine to form the University of Malaya. When Sydney Caine, the vice-chancellor of University of Malaya left to become the Director of the London School of Economics, he nominated Oppenheim to take his spot as vice-chancellor. In 1957, Oppenheim became vice-chancellor of UM-Singapore and in 1962 he became the vice-chancellor of UM-Kuala Lumpur. As vice-chancellor of both universities, Oppenheim worked closely with Tunku Abdul Rahman in planning and executing all organizational aspects including obtaining private funding and approval from the Islamic Monarchy to complete the second merger in 1962 of both universities; the latter result being the formation of the National University of Singapore. After retiring from his post in the vice-chancellory in 1965, Oppenheim served as visiting professor at the University of Reading in Berkshire, United Kingdom. Then from 1968–73, he taught at the former University of London campus and affiliate college, the University of Ghana alongside other expats including Conor Cruise O'Brien and Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby. Oppenheim was recruited by Alex Kwapong, the former president of the United Nations University to the University of Benin. Oppenheim retired to Henley-on-Thames where he remained until his death at age 94.


Oppenheim was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1955. Oppenheim was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1956 and was created a Knight Bachelor in the New Year's Honours, 1961. He also received the distinguished alumni medal from the University of Chicago. Oppenheim received an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Hong Kong in 1961, an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Leeds in 1966 and an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Malaya. Oppenheim was appointed Honorary Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm by Sultan Mahmud Al-Muktafi Billah Shah.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alexander Oppenheim at the Mathematics Genealogy Project

External links[edit]