Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Professor Graham Higman, who has died aged 91, was Waynflete Professor of Pure Mathematics at Oxford University and, within his chosen field of group theory (a branch of algebra),one of the three great British figures of the 20th century.Graham Higman was born on January 19 1917, the second son of a clergyman, and educated at Sutton Secondary School, Plymouth, and at Balliol College, Oxford, to which he won a Natural Sciences scholarship — though he chose to read Mathematics in order to distinguish himself from his elder brother, who had studied Chemistry at Balliol.In 1958 Higman was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society and in the same year became senior research fellow at Balliol. In 1960 he was appointed Waynflete Professor of Mathematics, succeeding his old supervisor Henry Whitehead, and became a Fellow of Magdalen.Higman served as president of the London Mathematical Society from 1965 to 1967; and as well as its De Morgan Medal, won the society's Bewick Prize in 1962. He won the Royal Society's Sylvester Medal in 1979. After his retirement from Oxford he was a visiting professor at the University of Illinois from 1984 to 1986. In algebra, groups are building blocks of more elaborate algebraic structures and occur throughout mathematics . Higman carried out original work in all aspects of the theory of groups..Higman has received many honours for his outstanding work in group theory. He was awarded the Berwick Prize from the London Mathematical Society in 1962 and the De Morgan Medal from that Society in 1974.