In Memoriam: Professor Harriet Botta

Written by Debby Repka (Lecturer at University of Toronto)

DSCN1182Harriet Botta, Professor of Mathematics at York University, died on June 23, 2016. She was the wife of  the late Peter Botta,  Undergraduate Coordinator in the Mathematics Department for many years. Harriet’s high intelligence and gift for mathematics made her unique. There were very few women of her generation who had the courage to pursue this subject; in fact, women were directed away from the sciences. Harriet faced great adversity as she entered the job market. She was told by the then Chair of the Department at the University of Toronto that she shouldn’t apply for a position here because she would be taking a job away from a male who had to support a family.  Despite her disappointment, she persevered and eventually was hired by York University. No department chair today would dare turn away a talented woman scientist, and this is thanks in part to the determination of Harriet and a few other female pioneers to remain academic mathematicians.

Harriet had a special relationship with her husband Peter. Finding a soulmate was not an easy task given the prejudice of most men of her generation against smart women. Peter was progressive beyond his time and wished to share his life with someone who could appreciate his scientific interests. Together they had a rich intellectual life, engaging in lively discussions on a wide range of topics. They were generous in these explorations, opening their home to all those who wanted to join in. Both Peter and Harriet were avid readers, so they had a broad perspective on many issues, challenging friends to think beyond their preconceptions. Often these conversations took place around the dining room table, while Peter served rarefied treats like blini and caviar and, on other occasions, heartier fare like the sausages and flapjacks of the lumberjack breakfasts of his youth.

Harriet deeply appreciated Peter’s achievement of moulding the members of the administrative staff in the Department into a family. With his encouragement, they established harmonious relationships that extended beyond the office, and their long-lasting friendships will endure into the future. Because of the spirit of cooperation and the dedication that Peter fostered, he was able to bring about important innovations in the undergraduate mathematics program. To honour his legacy, Harriet established a fund that, each year, treats the administrative staff to lunch in an elegant restaurant. Her thoughtful gift makes a continuing vital contribution to the Department. She will also be remembered by her many friends among the faculty.

What her friends and colleagues will recall most about Harriet is that she was a true lady. She was raised in an era in which good manners were inculcated in young people, and she never abandoned her high standards. While the society around her became more and more crass, she retained an air of refinement and sophistication. Even towards the end of her life, when her physical suffering was great, she never lost her dignity.  To quote Plutarch:  “The generous mind adds dignity to every act, and nothing misbecomes it.”

2016 Daniel B. DeLury Teaching Assistant Award Winners

We are happy to announce that this year’s winners of the Daniel B. DeLury Teaching Assistant Awards for graduate students in mathematics are:

  • Tracey Balehowsky
  • Beatriz Navarro Lameda
  • Nikita Nikolaev
  • Asif Zaman

The selection committee consisted of Mary Pugh, Abe Igelfeld and Peter Crooks.

Nominations were made by faculty members, course instructors, and undergraduate students.

The awards recipients will receive a monetary award and a certificate during our awards/graduation reception scheduled for Thursday, May 26 at 3:10 p.m. in the Math lounge.

Congratulations Tracey, Beatriz, Nikita and Asif!


2016 Course Instructors Teaching Excellence Award Winner

Congratulations to our graduate student, Peter Crooks, winner of the 2016 CI Teaching Excellence Award.

In 2015, the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program’s (TATP) Teaching Excellence Award launched the first-ever TATP award specifically for graduate student Course Instructors. This is a university-wide award that “recognizes one graduate student whose outstanding work as a sole-responsibility Course Instructor shows evidence of educational leadership, meaningful contributions to course and curriculum development, and impact on student learning.” Further information about this award can be found in this link:

Peter is co-supervised by Lisa Jeffrey and John Scherk and is working in the area of Lie Theory and Equivariant Geometry. Peter is defending his thesis this Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

ArtSci News Profiles Professor Jacob Tsimerman

Photo Credit: Diana Tyszko (photo from Arts & Science News)

Photo Credit: Diana Tyszko (photo from Arts & Science News)

The Faculty of Arts and Science recently did a profile on Professor Jacob Tsimerman who is currently the Math Department’s youngest faculty member.

Professor Tsimerman was recently awarded the prestigious SASTRA Ramanujan Prize.

His most recent breakthrough was proving the Andre-Oort conjecture, which he compares to “a line of wooden Russian nesting dolls with potentially infinite numbers of dolls within.”

The article discusses Professor Tsimerman’s research and also his love of comic books, Judo, playing guitar and wishing he “had Spider-Man’s powers”.

The full article can be found here:

2016 and Beyond…

The Faculty of Arts and Science recently sat down with the Chairs of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics to discuss the future of their fields and what lies in store for us in 2016 and beyond.  The big answer: Big Data

Departmental Chair, Professor V. Kumar Murty spoke about the future of the department and its focus on “Blurring of the line between pure and applied mathematics” and “Solving centuries-old problems“.  He also spoke on a new course on training in computation techniques at the undergraduate and graduate levels and our first graduate course in computational techniques, instructed by Professor Dror Bar-Natan.

The full article can be found here:

New Royal Society Fellow – Catherine Sulem

The department is proud to announce that Professor Catherine Sulem has been announced as a new member of the Royal Society of Canada in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

From the Royal Society: “Catherine Sulem is one of Canada’s most prominent and productive applied mathematicians. Her research on nonlinear waves has made deep and lasting contributions to ocean wave dynamics, to stability theory for nonlinear optical systems, to magneto-hydrodynamics and to plasmas. Her predictions of singularities in optical fibres are internationally recognized as a major achievement. Her work presents the highest standards of mathematical analysis and its physical applications.”

The full announcement can be read here:

2015 SASTRA Ramanujan Prize Awarded

Our congratulations go to Professor Jacob Tsimerman who was awarded the 2015 SASTRA Ramanujan Prize recognizing young mathematicians whose work is influenced by mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

In honour or Ramanujan the award, established in 2005, is only presented to mathematicians under the age of 32 which was the age Ramanujan sadly passed away at.

Professor Tsimerman is being honoured for his work in making “deep and highly original contributions to diverse parts of number theory, and most notably to the famous Andre-Oort Conjecture. He is one of the few mathematicians to have complete mastery over two very different areas of mathematics – analytic number theory and algebraic geometry.”

Further information on the award and it’s history can be found here: