## Thomas H. Wolff, Expert in Math Analysis, Dies at 46

##### By KENNETH CHANG

r. Thomas H. Wolff, a professor
of mathematics at the California Institute of Technology who proved
several important theorems in the
study of mathematical functions and
was regarded as a top expert in his
field, died on July 31 in an automobile
accident near Bakersfield, Calif. He
was 46.
Only last year, Dr. Wolff shared
the Bôcher Prize, awarded once every five years by the American
Mathematical Society for research
in mathematical analysis.

In that field, which includes the
study of mathematical functions and
differential equations, he was "probably No. 1 or 2 of his generation," Dr.
Sun-Yung Alice Chang, a professor of
mathematics at Princeton, said in an
interview yesterday.

At Caltech, Dr. Barry Simon, the
mathematics department's executive officer, or department chairman, said, "A number of times he
took problems in mathematical analysis that were considered impossibly
difficult and invented an entirely
new way of looking at them."

For instance, he was only a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley when, in the late
1970's, he found a new approach to a
theorem that had previously required a long, complicated proof.
"Wolff found basically a three- or
four-line proof," Dr. Simon said.

Dr. Wolff typically attacked one
problem, devised new mathematical
tools to solve it, then moved on to a
new problem.

Some of his research
involved Erwin Schrödinger's equation -- the fundamental equation of
quantum mechanics -- and the behavior of electrons in disordered,
glasslike material where they can be
trapped in some regions yet flow
freely in others.

In a message of sympathy to Dr.
Simon, Dr. Peter W. Jones, chairman
of the mathematics department at
Yale, said of Dr. Wolff's work, "In
the mathematical community, the
common and rapid response to these
breakthroughs was that they were
seen not just as watershed events,
but as lightning strikes that permanently altered the landscape."

Dr. Wolff, a native of New York
City, graduated from Harvard in
1975 and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Berkeley in 1979. After
teaching and doing research at the
University of Washington and the
University of Chicago, he became an
assistant professor at Caltech in 1982
and received tenure in 1986. He
moved to New York University that
year, returned to Caltech in 1988,
moved on to Berkeley in 1992 and by
1995 was back at Caltech.

In addition to his professorship
there, he was a member of the editorial boards of three mathematics
journals.

Survivors include his wife, Dr.
Carol Shubin, a professor of mathematics at California State University
at Northridge; two sons, James and
Richard, ages 3 and 5; his parents,
Frank and Lucile Wolff of New York
City; and his sisters, Virginia and
Caroline. An earlier marriage, to
Mei-Chu Chang, ended in divorce.