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Francis Hildebrand of math dies at 87

Hildebrand, 1945 photo
Hildebrand, 1945 photo

Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Francis B. Hildebrand of Wellesley, who was an MIT faculty member for 44 years, died on Nov. 29 at the age of 87.

Professor Hildebrand was also an MIT alumnus, having earned the Ph.D. in applied mathematics in 1940. He was appointed to the faculty the same year and retired in 1984.

When Professor Hildebrand joined the faculty, engineering and computational fields were increasingly in need of a standardized mathematics curriculum tailored to their studies, so he developed his famous courses on advanced calculus for engineers. The courses resulted in a textbook "Advanced Calculus for Engineers," which became the standard reference for engineering mathematics.

In 1952, Professor Hildebrand wrote "Methods in Applied Mathematics," another influential teaching and reference text. In 1956 he published "Introduction to Numerical Analysis," which contained techniques he himself developed. The book played a role in positioning numerical analysis as a major influence during an early stage of computer design. As a researcher, Professor Hildebrand contributed to the studies of numerical solution of integral equations and the theory of elasticity. During World War II, he worked for two years in the Radiation Laboratory.

"Francis Hildebrand is one of the most modest and self-effacing individuals I know," Professor Daniel Kleitman said at Professor Hildebrand's retirement dinner.

Professor Hildebrand received an honorary doctorate from Washington and Jefferson College in 1969. He was a member of the American Mathematics Society, Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Delta Theta. In addition to his academic life, he was an accomplished jazz musician and a student of early photography.

Professor Hildebrand received the B.S. and A.M. from Washington and Jefferson College in 1936 and 1938, respectively. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Eleanor (Jenkins) Hildebrand; his children, Susan France and her husband John of Denver, Robert Hildebrand of Milton, and Jean Clapp and her husband Timothy of Dover. He is also survived by five grandchildren. A memorial was held at the Wellesley Congregational Church on Dec. 4.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 11, 2002.

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