Alexander Oppenheim

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Alexander Oppenheim
Born4 February 1903
Salford, United Kingdom
Died13 December 1997(1997-12-13) (aged 94)
Henley-on-Thames, United Kingdom
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
University of Chicago
Known forDiophantine Approximation
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorL.E. Dickson
InfluencesG H Hardy
L.E. Dickson
InfluencedGrigory 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. After graduating with Bachelor and master's degrees, 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 PhD at the University of Chicago, after defending his thesis, "Minima of Indefinite Quadratic Quaternary Forms". Oppenheim was awarded a second doctorate, a DSc from the University of Oxford for additional academic work.

Academic and later life[edit]

After graduating, Oppenheim took up lectureship at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and then to the surprise of many, he left Edinburgh for the Raffles College in Singapore in 1931 and held the chair in mathematics there until 1959.[2] 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. 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 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.

Ho Peng Yoke, Oppenheim's only doctoral student, and later Director of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, gives some account of their relationship and working life at the University of Malaya (then in Singapore) in the early 1950s in his biography Reminiscence of a Roving Scholar: Science, Humanities, and Joseph Needham.[3]


Foreign honour[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alexander Oppenheim at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ History and milestones (1929-2015), Department of Mathematics, National University of Singapore
  3. ^ Ho, Peng Yoke (2005). Reminiscence of a Roving Scholar: Science, Humanities, and Joseph Needham. ISBN 9789812565884.
  4. ^ "Senarai Penuh Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat Persekutuan Tahun 1962" (PDF).
  5. ^ Oppenheim Lectures at the National University of Singapore

External links[edit]