John Macnaghten Whittaker

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John Macnaghten Whittaker FRS[1][2] (7 March 1905 – 29 January 1984) was a British mathematician and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield from 1953 to 1965.


Whittaker was born 7 March 1905 in Cambridge, the son of mathematician Edmund Taylor Whittaker. He went to Fettes College in Edinburgh, then Edinburgh University at the age of 15, followed by Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1923. In 1927 started his academic career as an assistant lecturer at Edinburgh University (obtaining a DSc), followed by a fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge, before becoming a professor of pure mathematics at Liverpool University in 1933. The same year married Iona Mhari Natalie Elliott: they had two sons. During the Second World War he served with the 8th Army on Field-Marshal Montgomery's staff.[1]

After the war he returned to Liverpool, becoming Dean of Science, then in 1953 moved to Sheffield to take up the post of Vice-Chancellor. During his office the University expanded from 2500 to 7000 students requiring the appointment of many new staff and the construction of many buildings. However, he also had to oversee the first closure of an English university department, the Department of Mining. His office covered the centenary celebration of the University in 1955, including a visit by the Queen. He retired from this position in 1965, and was honoured by being given the freedom of the city of Sheffield.[1]

In retirement he expanded his other interests in art and archeology, collecting watercolours and Persian antiques. He died 29 January 1984.[1]

Work and honours[edit]

There were early papers (1926–28) on quantum theory, but his main work was on complex analysis. J. M. Whitaker also made some significant development in the cardinal function theory of his father, E. T. Whittaker. In 1948 he won the Adams Prize, jointly with Burkill, Chandresekhar, and Hayman. In 1949 J. M. Whitaker was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, an honour already held by his father – they were the only parent and child to have this simultaneously.[1]


  • Interpolatory function theory. Cambridge University Press. 1935; vii+107 pp. [3] 2nd edn. New York: Stechert-Hafner. 1964. 
  • Series of Polynomials. Cairo: Fouad I University, Faculty of Science. 1943. 
  • Sur les Séries de Base de Polynomes Quelconques. Paris: Gauthier-Villars. 1949. 


  1. ^ a b c d e Hayman, W. K. (1985). "John Macnaghten Whittaker. 7 March 1905 – 29 January 1984". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 31: 654–666. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1985.0023. 
  2. ^ "Addendum: John Macnaghten Whittaker. 7 March 1905 – 29 January 1984". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 36: 603. 1990. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1990.0047. 
  3. ^ Hille, Einar (1936). "Review: Interpolatory function theory, by J. M. Whittaker". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 42 (5): 305–306. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1936-06294-4. 

Further reading[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Irvine Masson
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield
Succeeded by
Arthur Roy Clapham