Norman Lebovitz, a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Chicago who taught for more than 40 years and worked to unravel the complex behaviors of stars and galaxies, died Dec. 28, 2022. He was 87.
Born Sept. 27, 1935, Lebovitz grew up in Los Angeles and earned his BA from UCLA in 1956. He received his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago in 1961. His doctoral advisor was the famed astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, with whom he would continue to collaborate for decades.
Lebovitz joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1963 as a founding member of the Applied Mathematics Program, which he chaired for many years.
Though a mathematician, Lebovitz was interested in math as a way to understand the rules of the universe around us. In particular, he conducted mathematical analysis of the equilibrium and stability of rotating self-gravitating fluids that provide simple models of planets and stars. He worked closely with Chandrasekhar on “Ellipsoidal Figures of Equilibrium,” a treatise on rotating liquid masses published in 1969, and became known as the world's expert on self-gravitating rotating fluid objects.
Lebovitz worked on applications of the virial theorem for astrophysics, dynamical systems, differential equations, asymptotics, and Hamiltonian methods. Later in his career, he also became interested in the perturbations in flowing fluids that lead to turbulence.
“His science was like him—very careful, very methodical, very clean,” said Phil Morrison, a professor of physics at the University of Austin-Texas and a colleague, collaborator, and close friend. “His writing is clear and concise, and devoid of any grandiose claims or salesmanship. Because of this his papers are a delight to read, and you can rely on every word being correct.”