Mathematician J. Michael Boardman, pioneer of the field of homotopy, dies at 83

He taught at Johns Hopkins for 40 years before being named professor emeritus in 2010

J. Michael Boardman, Professor Emeritus in the Johns Hopkins Department of Mathematics and an internationally recognized top expert in the field of homotopy theory, died of natural causes on Thursday, March 18. He was 83.

J. Michael Boardman

Image caption: J. Michael Boardman

Boardman, who specialized in algebraic and differential topology, was renowned for his construction of the first rigorously correct model of the homotopy category of spectra, a branch of mathematics concerned with the topological space and properties of geometric objects undergoing deformation.

Despite his unassuming, deadpan style, Boardman had an enormous influence on his field and on the department, where his presence attracted other experts, leading it to become one of the top half-dozen departments in the nation specializing in homotopy, which is part of the larger field of topology. His discoveries about infinite loop space structures and his creation of the system of stable homotopy theory, became the foundations for further work in the field.

In 1998, the American Mathematical Society held a conference in his honor in downtown Baltimore, drawing 50 well-known homotopy devotees as speakers. Characteristically, Boardman humbly staffed the information booth.

Born in Manchester, England, Boardman served in the Royal Air Force in 1956 before earning a bachelor's degree and PhD from Trinity College Cambridge of the University of Cambridge, in 1961 and 1965 respectively. He served as visiting lecturer at the University of Chicago in 1966 and as assistant lecturer at the University of Warwick (UK) in 1967, and came to Johns Hopkins as associate professor in 1969, where he became professor in 1972. He was named professor emeritus in 2010.

Boardman was a Fellow of the Science Research Council and a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society.