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Congratulations to Professor Körner on his quinquagenary

1 October 2014

"At the Golden Jubilee reunion on 13 September 2014, where Tom Körner was present as one of our most distinguished alumni; he was fêted as a retiring fellow.  Few people can have been so long in College – and no one will have made a greater impact.  Tom is an outstanding scholar, as the tribute by Tadashi Tokieda (below) makes clear.  He is also a dedicated College man. Generations of students have benefitted from his teaching – and generations of fellows have learned from his wit and wisdom over dinner conversations, and through interventions in Governing Body when he can bring debates back to sense.   His influence will continue, not only as an Emeritus Fellow but also in the Körner Fellowship, now held by Tadashi, which was created in honour of Stephan (Tom's father) and Tom by Dennis Avery (1980). It was also fitting that at Tom’s retirement dinner, one of his former pupils was present who will be a fellow of the college and Reader in Mathematics from the new academic year.  The Körner legacy will live on."    

Professor Martin Daunton (former Master)


Korner and TokiedaTom is one of the greatest scholars in the world today in one of the greatest mathematical areas called Fourier analysis. 

Stephan Körner (later FBA) and Edith Löwy (later Edith Körner, CBE) were Czech refugees.  They met in 1941 in London and married in 1944.  They had a son, Thomas William born on 17 February 1946, who later married Wendy Salinger, and a daughter, Ann, a biochemist who later married Sidney Altman.  Though brought up English, around Tom there still wafts an air of gentle Mitteleuropakultur.  The reader is encouraged to consult the wikipedia articles on Stephan and Edith: they were amazing people.  Wendy and Tom have two children, Katherine and Michael.

Tom was educated at a Bristol grammar school, then was an undergraduate, graduate student, a research fellow, and a fellow all at Trinity Hall.  At the University of Cambridge he went through the usual promotions and is about to metamorphose into a Professor of Fourier Analysis Emeritus. So his academic life has always been in Cambridge, except for a stay at Orsay while working on his PhD with Nicolas Varopoulos.

Soon after his PhD, Tom received the Salem Prize of 1972, the most prestigious award in Fourier analysis.  Among his many strengths, he is famous for the knack of discovering counter-examples—surprising phenomena that prove that what people assume to be true is in fact false, and thereby force us to correct and improve our intuition.  He is perhaps even more famous for the knack of writing interesting books that nobody else could imagine writing.  (A book can be important, novel, useful, . . .  Tom's books are all these also, but above all they are invincibly interesting.)  Thus, he started brilliantly young, but matured to become a deeper, broader, more original scholar; a counter-example to the assumption that mathematics is just a young man's game.  I have counted seven books by him, mostly from Cambridge University Press of which he was a syndic for many years.  The best-known internationally is Fourier Analysis, written while he was courting Wendy.  One day in Paris, I mentioned to a roomful of French academicians and Fields medalists that Körner was my senior colleague and the person I learn from most in Cambridge.  They did not catch the pronunciation at first, but when I added Fourier Analysis, they exclaimed: "Ah oui, Corre-nerre!" and all stood up with arms raised toward heaven.  They spent the next half hour saying one of the happiest things that could happen to mathematics was that Corre-nerre should write more books.  It is a feeling shared by all good mathematicians of this and, no doubt, future generations.

Tadashi Tokieda (Stephan and Thomas Körner Fellow and Director of Studies in Mathematics)

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