Hermann Ludwig Schmid


Born: 26 June 1908 in Göggingen near Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany
Died: 16 April 1956 in Würzburg, Germany

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Hermann Ludwig Schmid's father, Josef Schmid (1867-1913), was a builder in Göggingen but sadly died in World War I when Hermann was five years old. Hermann was brought up by his mother, Walburga Wechsler (1879-1961). He entered the University of Munich in 1927 and, after studying for his degree in mathematics and physics, qualified to teach these subjects in a Gymnasium in 1932. He then taught as a high school teacher before entering the Philipps University of Marburg in 1933 to undertake work on his doctorate supervised by Helmut Hasse. His thesis Über das Reziprozitätsgesetz in relativ-zyklischen algebraischen Funktionenkörpern mit endlichem Konstantenkörper was accepted on 17 December 1934. In this work, which was published in Mathematische Zeitschrift in 1936, he studied the reciprocity law in algebraic function fields.

We have not mentioned the political situation in Germany through these years but we note that after the Nazis came to power in 1933 their policy to dismiss Jewish academics caused major problems. In particular, at the University of Göttingen eighteen mathematicians left or were forced out. In particular Hermann Weyl left his chair at Göttingen and accepted a position at Princeton in the United States. Helmut Hasse was offered Weyl's chair in 1934 and he moved from Marburg to Göttingen. In 1935 Schmid followed his former supervisor to Göttingen where he spent the two years 1935-37 as Hasse's assistant. He participated in Hasse's seminar on congruence function fields and p-adic numbers, along with Ernst Witt and Oswald Teichmüller. In fact Schmid and Witt collaborated on developing what today is called the 'Witt vector calculus'.

Leaving Göttingen, Schmid moved to the University of Giessen where he became editorial secretary of the Zentralblatt für Mathematik in 1938. He habilitated at Giessen in 1939 with his dissertation Zur Meromorphismentheorie der elliptischen Funktionenkörper . The start of World War II saw Schmid undertake a short spell of military service before moving to the University of Berlin in 1940 as an assistant to Harald Geppert. Soon he became a Privatdozent at the University of Berlin and in 1946 he was appointed as a full professor at what had become the Humboldt University in East Berlin. He worked hard to restore both the teaching and research side of mathematics which had been devastated by the war. In particular, he was able to make the Mathematical Institute function again. It was through Schmid's efforts that Helmut Hasse was brought to Berlin in 1946 after being dismissed from his position at Göttingen. Also on 1 October 1946, together with Hasse and Erhard Schmidt, Schmid succeeded in founding the Forschungsinstitut für Mathematik (Research Institute for Mathematics) as part of the newly founded Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (German Academy of Sciences in Berlin). The Prussian Academy of Sciences had ceased to exist during World War II and this new Academy, founded in August 1946, was intended both to continue the work of the Prussian Academy and also to establish research institutes.

The Zentralblatt für Mathematik had ceased publication during World War II but in 1947 Schmid succeeded in restarting publication and, at this time, he took over as editor. This became one of the projects of the Academy's new Research Institute for Mathematics. Another major achievement in bringing mathematical life back after the war was the founding of the journal Mathematische Nachrichten in 1947; it was the mathematical journal of the Research Institute for Mathematics with its editorial office in the Institute. Largely it was on Schmid's initiative that the journal was founded and he became its managing edito; Erhard Schmidt was appointed editor-in-chief of the journal. Schmid was also able to restart a major project editing the Mathematisches Wörterbuch (Dictionary of Mathematics), again as a project in the new Research Institute. After publication in 1961 (five years after Schmid's death with further editorial work carried by Josef Naas) it received many excellent reviews:-

These two volumes constitute an encyclopaedia of most of the terminology of modern mathematics, and give not only definitions (usually with expository accounts) of the terms listed, but also references to the basic literature, whenever needed. ... The 'Wörterbuch' is the result of an extensive collaboration of 127 mathematicians, and is a tour de force of editing.
It is worth noting that the 127 mathematicians involved in writing the articles were associated with the Institute for Mathematics which Schmid had set up as part of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Kenneth May wrote in a review [5]:-
The coverage is extensive, intensive, and up to date. The level is from college undergraduate to post-doctoral. It is a mathematician's dictionary. ... There is no seriously competitive collection of mathematical information in any language.
In 1950 the Research Institute for Mathematics was divided into two sections. One section was 'Mathematik und Editionen' (Mathematics and Editing) with Schmid as its director. The other section, 'Angemandte Mathematik' (Applied Mathematics) was directed by Kurt Schröder who had been joined the Institute in 1949.

Schmid moved to Würzburg in 1953 and Josef Naas took over his role as director of the Mathematik und Editionen section of the Research Institute for Mathematics. The authors of [3] write:-

In 1953 H L Schmid was offered a chair at Würzburg University which he accepted. Preceding negotiations with the Bavarian administration had been concluded to his satisfaction, and many of his collaborators could follow him from Berlin to Würzburg ... Schmid immediately concentrated his efforts on the planning of the construction of a new building for the Mathematics department and on establishing a research section with numerous non-resident collaborators who continued his extensive mathematical work. ... Soon, Schmid became Dean of the Faculty of Science and finally Rector of the University.
Following his move to Berlin, the direction of Schmid's research changed somewhat and he moved away from algebraic number theory, becoming interested in topics in algebraic geometry and Lamé differential equations. He published papers such as Zur algebraischen Theorie der Formen (1947), Störungsrechnung bei dreigliedrigen Rekursionen (Part 1 in 1948, Part 2 in 1949), and Über Polynomkettenbrüche (1951).

Hermann Schmid died following a sudden heart attack at the age of 47.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

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JOC/EFR November 2010
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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