Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter

Harold Scott MacDonald "Donald" Coxeter, (February 9, 1907 – March 31, 2003)[2] was a British and later also Canadian geometer. He is regarded as one of the greatest geometers of the 20th century.[3]

Coxeter was born in Kensington to Harold Samuel Coxeter and Lucy (née Gee). His father had taken over the family business of Coxeter & Son, manufacturers of surgical instruments and compressed gases (including a mechanism for anaesthetising surgical patients with nitrous oxide), but was able to retire early and focus on sculpting and baritone singing; Lucy Coxeter was a portrait and landscape painter who had attended the Royal Academy of Arts. A maternal cousin was the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.[4][2]

In his youth, Coxeter composed music and was an accomplished pianist at the age of 10.[5] He felt that mathematics and music were intimately related, outlining his ideas in a 1962 article on "Mathematics and Music" in the Canadian Music Journal.[5]

He was educated at King Alfred School, London and St George's School, Harpenden, where his best friend was John Flinders Petrie, later a mathematician for whom Petrie polygons were named. He was accepted at King's College, Cambridge in 1925, but decided to spend a year studying in hopes of gaining admittance to Trinity College, where the standard of mathematics was higher.[2] Coxeter won an entrance scholarship and went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1926 to read mathematics. There he earned his BA (as Senior Wrangler) in 1928, and his doctorate in 1931.[5][6] In 1932 he went to Princeton University for a year as a Rockefeller Fellow, where he worked with Hermann Weyl, Oswald Veblen, and Solomon Lefschetz.[6] Returning to Trinity for a year, he attended Ludwig Wittgenstein's seminars on the philosophy of mathematics.[5] In 1934 he spent a further year at Princeton as a Procter Fellow.[6]

In 1936 Coxeter moved to the University of Toronto. In 1938 he and P. Du Val, H.T. Flather, and John Flinders Petrie published The Fifty-Nine Icosahedra with University of Toronto Press. In 1940 Coxeter edited the eleventh edition of Mathematical Recreations and Essays,[7] originally published by W. W. Rouse Ball in 1892. He was elevated to professor in 1948. Coxeter was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1948 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1950. He met M. C. Escher in 1954 and the two became lifelong friends; his work on geometric figures helped inspire some of Escher's works, particularly the Circle Limit series based on hyperbolic tessellations. He also inspired some of the innovations of Buckminster Fuller.[6] Coxeter, M. S. Longuet-Higgins and J. C. P. Miller were the first to publish the full list of uniform polyhedra (1954).[8]

He worked for 60 years at the University of Toronto and published twelve books.

Since 1978, the Canadian Mathematical Society have awarded the Coxeter–James Prize in his honor.

He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1950 and in 1997 he was awarded their Sylvester Medal.[6] In 1990, he became a Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[9] and in 1997 was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.[10]

A festschrift in his honour, The Geometric Vein, was published in 1982. It contained 41 essays on geometry, based on a symposium for Coxeter held at Toronto in 1979.[11]