For the nearly four decades that Prof. Arūnas Leonardas Liulevičius taught mathematics to undergraduates at the University of Chicago, he was regularly approached by former students telling him he had inspired them to pursue majors or careers in the field after taking his classes.
Liulevičius, PhD’60, who died Dec. 21 at age 84, is remembered as a distinguished teacher who had a lasting impact on the lives of his students.
“The thing about teaching undergraduate math is that people who are talented at explaining mathematics, but don’t also care about students, will not be successful,” said Robert Fefferman, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor of Mathematics and Liulevičius’ colleague for more than 30 years. “You must decide it is important to you, to be dedicated, to be available, and that is what Arūnas was.”
Liulevičius joined the University faculty in 1963 as a specialist in the burgeoning field of algebraic topology, a branch of mathematics that uses algebra to describe topological structures—objects as they are twisted or deformed. His first work, overseen by his adviser, eminent mathematician Saunders MacLane, solved a variant of a problem whose solution was considered one of the starting points of modern algebraic topology.
Liulevičius wrote two sets of lecture notes on the subject, Characteristic Classes and Cobordism and On Characteristic Classes, which colleagues noted for their “crystal clarity” and quirky, understated humor. Its reviewer wrote: “These lecture notes are unusual in combining rigour and precision with a delightfully informal style…[the reader] will finish the notes feeling extremely friendly to the author.”
Liulevičius also remains one of only a handful of professors ever to twice win the University’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.