Chris Arney, United States Military Academy

November 21, 2002

[used with permission]

Professor Edith H. Luchins (1922-2002) was one of the foremost mathematicians and math educators in the United States. She received her B.A. degree from Brooklyn College in 1942, an M.S. from New York University in 1944, and a Ph.D. from University of Oregon in 1957. Dr. Luchins began her technical career as a government inspector of antiaircraft guns at a manufacturing plant on Long Island during World War II. She was one of the first women mathematicians in a technical institute like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she taught from 1962 to 1992, and was a role model and mentor for many other mathematicians. She was the first woman to be appointed full professor at Rensselaer, attaining Emeritus status in 1992.

She was interested in diverse areas of mathematics: number theory, algebra, cryptography, geometry, modeling, math education, and math history. In the most recent years her research related mathematics and psychology, often working with her husband Abe Luchins ("The Einstein-Wertheimer Correspondence on Geometric Proofs," The Mathematical Intelligencer). She worked on mathematical models for information processing, gender differences in cognitive processes and their implications for teaching mathematics, and the roles of heuristics and algorithms in mathematical problem solving. She was also interested in the history of mathematics, and, in particular, the history of women in mathematics. Her last Ph.D. student was Mary Ann McLoughlin, chair of the Mathematics Department at the College of Saint Rose, who with Edith studied the mathematical life of Olga Taussky Todd.

Through a NSF grant, Professor Luchins produced computer graphics material for improving spatial visualization in mathematics and devised computer projects in Number Theory. She worked with Chris Arney and Joe Arkin on some applied number theory results for the Army ("A Function Whose Values are Integers," Transactions of the Tenth Army Conference on Applied Mathematics and Computing). She also developed computer and calculator programs for bringing technology into pre-college and college mathematics education. So successful was her work at that level that Edith, along with RPI mathematics professors Lester Rubenfeld and Bernard Fleishman, were consultants and designers of New York State’s integrated high school mathematics curriculum.

She was the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Mathematics at the United States Military Academy at West Point for the academic year 1991-1992. In addition to teaching cadets discrete dynamical systems and calculus, she was so enthused by the faculty development process at the Academy that she conducted an analysis and wrote an article about the process ("Preparation for College Mathematics Teaching: The West Point Model from a Visiting Professor's Perspective," Mathematical Association of America Notes Number 35). Edith Luchins was energetic and tireless in her efforts to develop students and faculty colleagues, often spending hours with individuals struggling with homework problems or asking for her help and guidance in understanding concepts in mathematics. While at West Point, she arranged special tutoring sessions for cadets, often filling the math clinic even weeks before exams.

Dr. Luchins was awarded the Rensselaer Distinguished Teaching Award, the Darrin Counseling Award, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, and the Rensselaer Alumni Association Outstanding Faculty Award at RPI and the Award for Distinguished Public Service at West Point.