Charles Fefferman was a child prodigy. It is claimed that he had mastered the calculus before the age of twelve. Fefferman entered the University of Maryland when he was very young and in 1966, at the age of 17, he graduated with the highest distinction.
After graduating Fefferman undertook postgraduate work at Princeton University supervised by Elias Stein. He was awarded his PhD in 1969 for a thesis entitled Inequalities for Strongly Regular Convolution Operators. He lectured at Princeton for the years 1969-70. He moved to the University of Chicago in 1970 and, one year later in 1971, he was promoted to full professor there, earning him the distinction of becoming the youngest full professor ever appointed in the United States.
In 1973 Fefferman returned to Princeton and, in 1984, he was appointed Herbert Jones Professor at Princeton.
In 1976 he was awarded the Alan T Waterman Award, being the first mathematician to receive such an award.
Fefferman contributed several innovations that revised the study of multidimensional complex analysis by finding correct generalisations of classical low-dimensional results. Fefferman's work on partial differential equations, Fourier analysis, in particular convergence, multipliers, divergence, singular integrals and Hardy spaces earned him a Fields Medal at the International Congress of Mathematicians at Helsinki in 1978.
In 1979 Fefferman described the way that he liked to work:-
I like to lie down on the sofa for hours at a stretch thinking intently about shapes, relationships and change - rarely about numbers as such. I explore idea after idea in my mind, discarding most. When a concept finally seems promising, I'm ready to try it out on paper. But first I get up and change the baby's diaper. ... New ideas are not easy to find. If you are lucky enough to be working on an idea which is actually right, it can take a long time before you know that it's right. Conversely, if you are going up a blind alley, it can also take a long time before you find out. You can end up saying 'Oops, I've been working for years on something wrong.' A good mathematician must have the courage to take a lot of work and throw it away.
In 1992 Fefferman was awarded the Bergman Prize. The citation from the awarding committee read (see ):-
Charles Fefferman has made enormously important contributions to the study of the Bergman kernel and has initiated much of the activity in the topic. ... Each of [three of Fefferman's papers] is a 'tour-de-force', each contains not only results about the Bergman kernel and its applications but each also develops highly original ideas and techniques which are of great importance...
In his reply Fefferman said:-
I am grateful to the selection committee for awarding me the Bergman Prize. Bergman's ideas have been a major influence in my work. They continue to provide deep, important problems for analysis.
In addition to the awards mentioned above, Fefferman had received many honours. These include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1972), election to the National Academy of Science in 1979 and election to the American Philosophical Society in 1989. He has received honorary degrees from the University of Maryland (1979), Knox College (1981), Bar-Ilan Univesity (1985), and the University of Madrid (1990). In 2008 he was awarded the Bôcher Memorial Prize from the American Mathematical Society:-
... for his many fundamental contributions to different areas of analysis..
In 2009 Fefferman was made an honorary member of the London Mathematical Society. The citation reads:-
Professor Charles Fefferman's contributions and ideas have had an impact on the development of modern analysis, differential equations, mathematical physics and geometry, with his most recent work including his sharp (computable) solution of the Whitney extension problem.
Fefferman continues to work at Princeton and from 1999 to 2002 he was Chair of the Department of Mathematics at Princeton University.
Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
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