A Short Lifestory

William Abikoff is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. He was born in New York City and received most of his education at the Bronx High School of Science. He later took a couple of degrees in electrical engineering at (what is now called) the Polytechnic  Institute of New York University. While an honors undergrad at Poly, he and a friend designed and built a control system for quadriplegics. Since undergrads didn't do much research or design at that time, it got a lot of press; see, for example, the article that appeared in the New York Times.

In 1965, armed with a fresh Master's degree, he became a Member of Technical Staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill and later Holmdel, New Jersey. In 1970, he received a doctorate in mathematics from the Polytechnic and became a research instructor at Columbia University. The following year he spent at the Institut Mittag-Leffler in Sweden lamenting a startling lack of new ideas -- ever since, he has lived off the few that did occur to him then. He returned to Columbia to find that his chair had been promoted in his absence and the next three years  he dwelt as an assistant professor there. He was also Departmental Representative (undergraduate chair) for two of those years. In 1975, he became an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana and spent the following year as a fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a member of the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques outside Paris. Again being away seemed to be fortuitous --- hopefully not necessary --- since he was promoted and tenured in his absence. In 1981 he moved to the University of Connecticut as professor. Since then he has been honored by membership in the Institute for Advanced Study. At the Institute, he noted that he was the oldest mathematician not participating in a special program and far younger than any of the resident humanists or social scientists. More recently, he was a Lady Davis Senior Fellow and Visiting Professor at the Technion -- the Israel Institute of Technology.

His mathematical interests have centered on the interaction of classical geometry and complex analysis. He has written three books, not a best-seller among them. His early interest in physics was rekindled by inquiries from physicists seeking to understand the mathematics behind string theory and, later, knot theory and, in Ed Witten's formulation, the Chern-Simons theory. One of his books was, at the time, the most recent study of a key mathematical ingredient, Teichmüller Theory, in those theories.

Pure Luck.