Marjorie Senechal

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Marjorie Senechal
Marjorie Wikler

St. Louis, Missouri
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Illinois Institute of Technology
Scientific career
history of science
InstitutionsSmith College
Doctoral advisorAbe Sklar

Marjorie Lee Senechal (née Wikler, born 1939) is an American mathematician and historian of science, the Louise Wolff Kahn Professor Emerita in Mathematics and History of Science and Technology at Smith College[1] and editor-in-chief of The Mathematical Intelligencer.[2] In mathematics, she is known for her work on tessellations and quasicrystals; she has also studied ancient Parthian electric batteries[3] and published several books about silk.[4]


Senechal was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the oldest of four children of Abraham Wikler, a United States Public Health Service physician. The family soon moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and Senechal grew up as a "narco brat" on the grounds of the Lexington Narcotic Hospital, a prison farm for drug addicts, where her father was associate director.[5][6] She was educated at the Training School of the University of Kentucky, a small school with only one class in each grade; Senechal later wrote that the school's too-easy classwork, snobbish classmates, and anti-Jewish discrimination made her miserable.[7]

She left Lafayette High School after the 11th grade to begin her undergraduate studies as a pre-med at the University of Chicago, but soon switched to mathematics, graduating in 1960.[8] While doing graduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, she married mathematician Lester Senechal, and moved to Arizona with him before completing her own degree.[8] Nevertheless, she finished her Ph.D. in 1965, under the supervision of Abe Sklar; her thesis concerned functional equations.[9]

Unable to get her own faculty position at Arizona because of the anti-nepotism rules then in place, she and her husband visited Brazil, supported by a Fulbright Scholarship. They then moved to Massachusetts, where she took the faculty position at Smith that she would keep for the rest of her career.[5] She eventually divorced Senechal, and married photographer Stan Sherer in 1989.[8] She retired in 2007; a festival in 2006 honoring her impending retirement included the performance of a musical play that she wrote with The Talking Band member Ellen Maddow, loosely centered around the theme of aperiodic tilings and the life of amateur mathematician Robert Ammann.[10][11][12]

Awards and honors[edit]

Senechal won the Mathematical Association of America's Carl B. Allendoerfer Award for excellence in expository writing in Mathematics Magazine in 1982, for her article, "Which Tetrahedra Fill Space?"[8][13] In 2008, her book American Silk 1830 – 1930 won the Millia Davenport Publication Award of the Costume Society of America.[14] In 2012, she became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[15]


  • Crystalline Symmetries: An informal mathematical introduction (Alan Hilger, 1990)[16][17]
  • Quasicrystals and Geometry (Cambridge University Press, 1995)[18][19][20]
  • Long Life to Your Children! A portrait of High Albania (with S. Sherer, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997)[21]
  • Northampton's Century of Silk (City of Northampton, Massachusetts, 2004)[22]
  • American Silk 1830 – 1930: Entrepreneurs and Artifacts (with Jacqueline Field and Madelyn Shaw, Texas Tech University Press, 2007)[14][23][24][25][26]
  • I Died For Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures of Science (Oxford University Press, 2012)[27][28][29][30]


  1. ^ Faculty listing Archived 2017-05-20 at the Wayback Machine, Smith College Department of Mathematics and Statistics, retrieved 2013-07-15.
  2. ^ Publisher's web site for The Mathematical Intelligencer, retrieved 2013-07-15.
  3. ^ "Riddle of 'Baghdad's batteries'", BBC News, 27 February 2003.
  4. ^ As well as the two books written by Senechal listed in the Books section, she edited and contributed to Silk Unraveled!: Threads of Human History, Smith College Studies in History 53, 2005.
  5. ^ a b Budrus, Sarah (2007), Dr. Marjorie Senechal: What do Silk, Crystals, Culture, and History Have in Common?, AWM Essay Contest College First Place Winner, Association for Women in Mathematics, archived from the original on 2016-03-03, retrieved 2013-07-16.
  6. ^ All Roads Lead to Lexington: The Consolidation of Addiction Research in the U.S. Public Health Service, University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center, archived from the original on 2013-07-17, retrieved 2013-07-16.
  7. ^ Senechal, Marjorie (2003), "Narco Brat", in Patey, D. (ed.), Of Human Bondage (PDF), Smith College Studies in History, vol. 52, Smith College
  8. ^ a b c d Brunner, Regina Baron (1998), "Marjorie Wikler Senechal", in Morrow, Charlene; Perl, Teri (eds.), Notable Women in Mathematics: A Biographical Dictionary, Greenwood Press, pp. 225–229, ISBN 9780313291319.
  9. ^ Marjorie Senechal at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  10. ^ "Musical Play Toys with Rhythm, Order, Pattern, Sound", Smith College News & Events, October 26, 2006.
  11. ^ Neale, Alexandra (October 26, 2006), "Festival of surprise: Smith event to connect math and art", The Sophian.
  12. ^ Midgette, Anne (January 24, 2006), "Theatre Review, Delicious Rivers: A Post Office With Attitude", New York Times
  13. ^ The Mathematical Association of America's Carl B. Allendoerfer Award, archived from the original on 1999-09-09, retrieved 2013-07-13.
  14. ^ a b Millia Davenport Publication Award Archived 2009-09-19 at the Wayback Machine, Costume Society of America, retrieved 2013-07-15.
  15. ^ List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 2013-07-15.
  16. ^ Review of Crystalline Symmetries by Doris Schattschneider (1993), SIAM Review 35 (2): 335–336, doi:10.1137/1035079.
  17. ^ Review of Crystalline Symmetries by R. L. E. Schwarzenberger (1992), MR1100479.
  18. ^ Review of Quasicrystals and Geometry by István Hargittai (1997), Advanced Materials 9 (12): 994–996, doi:10.1002/adma.19970091217.
  19. ^ Review of Quasicrystals and Geometry by Richard Kenyon (1996), MR1340198.
  20. ^ Review of Quasicrystals and Geometry by Charles Radin (1996), Notices of the AMS 43 (4): 416–421.
  21. ^ Raynor, Vivien (September 13, 1998), "Art: Life in Albania Captured in Photographs", New York Times.
  22. ^ Northampton's Century of Silk was produced as part of a year-long city celebration of silk, co-organized by Senechal; see "Town spins yearlong celebration of almost forgotten silk industry", Toledo Blade, January 19, 2003.
  23. ^ Review of American Silk by Laurence F. Gross (2008), Technology and Culture 49 (3): 796–798, doi:10.1353/tech.0.0050.
  24. ^ Review of American Silk by Carolyn C. Cooper (2009), Journal of Interdisciplinary History 39 (3): 450–452, doi:10.1162/jinh.2009.39.3.450.
  25. ^ Review of American Silk by Melinda Talbot Nasardinov (2008), Winterthur Portfolio 42 (4): 293–294, doi:10.1086/592797.
  26. ^ Review of American Silk by Marla Miller (2008), The New England Quarterly 81 (1): 165–168, JSTOR 20474621.
  27. ^ Deng, Boer (March 16, 2013), "Forgetting Dorothy Wrinch: Science and the Culture of Correctness", Los Angeles Review of Books, archived from the original on March 23, 2013, retrieved July 16, 2013. See also a follow-up exchange of letters Archived 2013-07-17 at between Senechal and Deng.
  28. ^ Ball, Philip (6 December 2012), "X-Ray crystallography: Symmetry wars", Nature, 492 (7427): 37–38, Bibcode:2012Natur.492...37B, doi:10.1038/492037a.
  29. ^ Engelhart, Katie (April 10, 2013), "Author Margorie Senechal resurrects a brilliant female scientist", Maclean's, retrieved July 16, 2013.
  30. ^ Else, Liz (7 December 2012), "CultureLab: A mathematician's magnificent failure to explain life", New Scientist.

External links[edit]