Friedrich Hirzebruch

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Friedrich Hirzebruch
Friedrich Hirzebruch.jpeg
Friedrich Hirzebruch in 1980 (picture courtesy MFO)
Born Friedrich Ernst Peter Hirzebruch
(1927-10-17)17 October 1927
Hamm, Province of Westphalia, Weimar Germany
Died 27 May 2012(2012-05-27) (aged 84)
Bonn, Germany
Residence Germany
Nationality German
Fields Mathematics
Institutions University of Bonn
Max-Planck-Institut für Mathematik
Alma mater University of Münster
ETH Zürich
Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton University
Doctoral advisor Heinrich Behnke
Heinz Hopf
Doctoral students Egbert Brieskorn
Detlef Gromoll
Klaus Jänich
Matthias Kreck
Don Bernard Zagier
Lothar Göttsche
Known for Hirzebruch-Riemann-Roch theorem
Notable awards Wolf Prize (1988)
Lobachevsky Medal (1989)

Friedrich Ernst Peter Hirzebruch (17 October 1927 – 27 May 2012) was a German mathematician, working in the fields of topology, complex manifolds and algebraic geometry, and a leading figure in his generation. He has been described as "the most important mathematician in the Germany of the postwar period."[1]


Hirzebruch was born in Hamm, Westphalia in 1927.[2] He studied at the University of Münster from 1945–1950, with one year at ETH Zürich.

He then had a position at Erlangen, followed by the years 1952–54 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. After one year at Princeton University 1955–56, he was made a professor at the University of Bonn, where he remained, becoming director of the Max-Planck-Institut für Mathematik in 1981. More than 300 people gathered in celebration of his 80th birthday in Bonn in 2007.

The Hirzebruch–Riemann–Roch theorem (1954) for complex manifolds was a major advance and quickly became part of the mainstream developments around the classical Riemann–Roch theorem; it was also a precursor of the Atiyah–Singer index theorem. Hirzebruch's book Neue topologische Methoden in der algebraischen Geometrie (1956) was a basic text for the 'new methods' of sheaf theory, in complex algebraic geometry. He went on to write the foundational papers on topological K-theory with Michael Atiyah, and collaborate with Armand Borel on the theory of characteristic classes. In his later work he provided a detailed theory of Hilbert modular surfaces, working with Don Zagier.

Hirzebruch was a foreign member of numerous academies and societies, including the United States National Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the French Academy of Sciences. In 1980–81 he delivered the first Sackler Distinguished Lecture in Israel.

In March 1945, Hirzebruch became a soldier, and in April, in the last weeks of Hitler's rule, he was taken prisoner by the British forces then invading Germany from the west. When a British soldier found that he was studying mathematics, he drove him home and released him, and told him to continue studying.[1]

Hirzebruch died at the age of 84 on 27 May 2012.[3][4][5]


Amongst many other honours, Hirzebruch was awarded a Wolf Prize in Mathematics in 1988 and a Lobachevsky Medal in 1989.[6]

The government of Japan awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1996.[7]

Hirzebruch won an Einstein Medal in 1999, and received the Cantor medal in 2004.


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