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Ivan Morton Niven, 1983-1984 MAA President

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Born: October 25, 1915, Vancouver, Canada
Died: May 9, 1999, Eugene, Oregon

Ivan Morton Niven was a professor of mathematics at the University of Oregon known for his research in number theory, expository writing, and service on MAA committees.

Presidency: 1983-1984

Niven wrote "The MAA and the Winds of Change" in the March-April 1983 issue of MAA FOCUS. As president, he supported the creation of the American Mathematics Project to improve the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools. He was instrumental in creating an MAA citation for "those who have furthered the progress of mathematics by enhancing significantly the status of women in mathematics."

Education and Career

Niven earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of British Columbia and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1938 at age twenty-two. His thesis advisor was Leonard Eugene Dickson, and he took at least one course by E.J. McShane, who was visiting from Virginia. Niven named Saunders Mac Lane and Emil Artin as the most exciting lecturers he encountered at Chicago.

Niven studied with Hans Rademacher at the University of Pennsylvania for a postdoctoral year. He then spent three years at the University of Illinois in Urbana before joining the faculty at Purdue University in 1942. Gail Young also joined Purdue in 1942, and it was at Purdue that Niven met Paul Erdös, who had a research grant at Purdue, and with whom Niven collaborated several times. In 1947, Niven accepted a post at the University of Oregon. In the same year, he published a one-page proof of the irrationality of pi; previously, no simple proof was known.

Niven wrote several textbooks, including volume one of the New Mathematical Library, and published 80 scholarly papers. He served on innumerable committees, including advisory committees to the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, as well as at least nine American Mathematical Society committees.

Niven served on at least thirty MAA committees, including the board of governors, meetings committees, program committees, and nominating committees, but his greatest contributions may be to committees on the publication of books: the New Mathematical Library series, the Carus Mathematical Monographs, and the MAA Studies in Mathematics.

Niven was the 1960 Hedrick Lecturer. He won the MAA's Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award in 1989 and a Lester R. Ford Award in 1970 for his article "Formal Power Series." Niven was first vice president of the MAA in 1974-75.

External Resources

University of Chicago Magazine death notices

Eugene Register-Guard obituary

Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award citation by Kenneth Ross

"A Conversation with Ivan Niven" by Donald Albers and G.L. Alexanderson

The Mathematics Genealogy Project

"Ivan Niven Dies at 83," MAA FOCUS, Volume 19, Number 6, page 3