Kurt Mahler

Born: 26 July 1903 in Krefeld, Prussian Rhineland
Died: 25 Feb 1988 in Canberra, Australia

Kurt Mahler contracted tuberculosis at the age of five years which affected his right knee. Because of these health problems he attended school for only four years leaving in 1917 at the age of 13. In 1918 he took a job in a factory but attended technical schools to learn to become an instrument maker.

He was self-taught in mathematics teaching himself while working in the factory, reading works by Landau, Knopp, Klein and Hilbert among others. His father sent small articles his son had written to Klein who passed them to Siegel. Siegel arranged for him to attend Frankfurt University which he entered in 1923. There he attended lectures by Dehn on topology, Hellinger on elliptic functions, Siegel on calculus and Szász.

In 1925 Kurt moved to Göttingen where he attended lectures by Emmy Noether, Courant, Landau, Born, Heisenberg, Hilbert and Ostrowski and acted as unpaid assistant to Norbert Wiener. It was through Emmy Noether that he learnt about p-adic numbers which were to be one of the major topics of his research throughout his life. In 1927 he submitted his doctoral dissertation on zeros of the gamma function to Frankfurt.

In 1933 Mahler was appointed to his first post at the University of Königsberg but, before he could take up the post, Hitler came to power. Mahler realised at once that, as he was Jewish, he had to leave Germany. He accepted an invitation from Mordell to go to Manchester where he spent 1933-34. He spent 1934-36 in Groningen in the Netherlands. However in 1936 he was involved in a bicycle accident while in Groningen and his knee troubles returned. He underwent operations on his knee back home in Krefeld and also spent some time in Switzerland where he was finally cured.

Mahler returned to Manchester in 1937 but during 1940 he was interned as "an enemy alien" for 3 months and spent some time in the same camp on the Isle of Man as Kurt Hirsch. Returning to Manchester he remained there until 1962 when he went to Canberra for the last 6 years of his career.

He worked on transcendence of numbers, showing in 1946 that


was transcendental. In [12] it is noted that

Mahler regretted that, apart from his own work, little interest had been shown by 20th century mathematicians in the study of arithmetical properties of decimal expansions.

He also classified real and complex numbers into classes which are algebraically independent. Other major themes of his work were p-adic numbers, p-adic Diophantine approximation, geometry of numbers (a term coined by Minkowski to describe the mathematics of packings and coverings) and measure on polynomials.

Mahler received many awards. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1948. The London Mathematical Society awarded him its Senior Berwick Prize in 1950 and its De Morgan Medal in 1971.