Raghavan Narasimhan, analytically deft mathematician, 1937-2015

Prof. Emeritus Raghavan Narasimhan, known for his analytical prowess in a distinguished career of more than four decades on the UChicago mathematics faculty, died Oct. 3 at Bernard Mitchell Hospital after a brief illness. He was 78.

“Narasimhan was an analyst’s analyst,” said Shmuel Weinberger, the Andrew MacLeish Professor and chair of Mathematics. “He was a top analyst whose work had technical virtuosity, breadth of vision and elegance that, in difficult technical fields like analysis, are hard for non-analysts to appreciate.”

Prof. Madhav Nori also praised Narasimhan for his analytical prowess.

“Narasimhan had a truly astounding insight in analysis,” Nori said. “He often got to the heart of any problem in this field with such speed that it dazzled onlookers. He maintained a deep interest in many areas in mathematics and was very generous with his ideas.”

Narasimhan was a beloved and highly respected member of the Department of Mathematics for more than 40 years, noted Weinberger. “We appreciated his unique view of the world and his exquisite and uncompromising taste in mathematics. Much of his work was in several complex variables, but he had a deep interest in analytic number theory as well.”

Narasimhan was probably best known for his work that presented his solution to the Levi problem for complex spaces. He was invited to speak about this work in 1962 at the International Congress of Mathematicians. Giving an invited address at the congress is a coveted professional distinction among mathematicians—it was all the more remarkable, considering it occurred a year before Narasimhan completed his doctorate.

One of Narasimhan’s close collaborators was Princeton University’s Charles Fefferman, who won the Fields Medal, the highest honor in the field. In the 1990s, Narasimhan and Fefferman wrote a series of joint papers on the borderline of analysis and real algebraic geometry. Their results answered questions arising from the work of Alberto Parmeggiani of the University of Bologna in Italy.

“The phenomena are subtle and surprising, and the proof is formidable and related to a remarkable collection of geometric and analytic ideas,” Weinberger said.

Narasimhan’s body of work included scores of research papers and six books. His most recent book was the second edition of Complex Analysis in One Variable, in collaboration with Yves Nievergelt, published in 2001. He also authored Introduction to the Theory of Analytic Spaces (1965), Analysis on Real and Complex Manifolds (1968, revised in 1985), Several Complex Variables (1970) and Compact Riemann Surfaces (1992). He also was editor of Riemann’s Collected Works (1990).

The University of Geneva awarded Narasimhan an honorary doctorate in 1986. The citation lauded him for his profound influence in the development of mathematics in French Switzerland, and for the training he provided to many doctoral students.

Narasimhan was born Aug. 31, 1937, in Madras, India. He received his bachelor’s degree from Loyola College in Madras in 1957, and his PhD from Bombay University in India, in 1963.

He held various positions from research associate to professor from 1957 to 1964 at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai. Narasimhan became a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., in 1966, and a professor at the University of Geneva in 1967. He joined the UChicago faculty in 1969.

He married his wife, Carolyn (Lynn), on Aug. 15, 1970. Lynn is director of the STEM Center and a professor of mathematics at DePaul University.

“His love of mathematics never diminished. Most recently, he was immersed in the work of Maynard and others on the twin prime conjecture,” Lynn said.

In addition to mathematics, the Narasimhans shared interests in music and wine. He enjoyed classical and chamber music, especially Mozart’s string quintets and piano concertos.

A wine connoisseur, he preferred old French red wines.

“He had a goal when I first met him to drink a wine that was created before the phylloxera hit,” Lynn said, referring to the great French wine blight that emerged in the early 1860s. It was a goal he realized with Lynn at a Paris restaurant shortly after they married.

“He had an unusual memory for taste. He could drink a wine in, say, 1990, and 10 years later drink the same wine and describe how it had changed,” she said. “He could do the same thing with food.” It was an ability that came in handy during the last decade of his life, when cooking became one of his chief hobbies, and he would try to recreate some of his mother’s recipes.

Narasimhan is survived by his wife, Lynn, and 10 nieces and nephews. A memorial service will take place from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Quadrangle Club, 1155 E. 57th St.