Edward Burr Van Vleck was the second member in a distinguished three member academic dynasty consisting of the grandfather, John Monroe Van Vleck, an astronomer, the father, Edward Burr Van Vleck, a mathematician, and the son, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, a physicist and Nobel Prize winner in 1977.
Edward Burr Van Vleck graduated from Wesleyan University in 1884 with an interest in mathematics, physics and astronomy. In 1885, he entered graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, where he eventually decided to focus on mathematics. Since German Universities were the strongest in mathematics, his father advised him to switch to a German University for his graduate studies. As a result he managed to switch his graduate studies to the University of Gottingen in Germany, from where he earned his doctorate in mathematics in 1893. For those interested and with an ability to read German the title of his dissertation was, “Zur Kettenbruchentwicklung Lamescher und Ahnlicher Integrale”. Tranlated it means, the study of hyper elliptic and related integrals in continued fractions.
With his doctorate in hand Van Vleck was hired by the University of Wisconsin as an instructor in mathematics. He remained at Wisconsin for two years until 1895, when he was hired by Wesleyan University as an associate professor in mathematics. Van Vleck was promoted to professor in 1898, and then moved back to the University of Wisconsin in 1906, where he would remain until his retirement in 1929.
During his academic career, Van Vleck was active in the American Mathematical Society, first as an associate editor and then editor of “The Transactions of the Mathematical Society, from 1902 to 1910. In 1909, Van Vleck was elected as a vice president of the American Mathematical Society, and he became the Society’s president from 1913 to 1914.
Van Vleck’s research contributions consist of, among others, the proof for the first zero-one law, anticipating the zero-one law of Borel and Kolmogorov. This contribution is further distinguished in that it provides the key step in establishing what may be the earliest example in Ergodic theory of a metrically transitive transformation. Most of Van Vleck’s research work was in the areas of function theory and differential equations.
In 1916, the University of Chicago celebrated its 25th anniversary, and as part of its anniversary celebration awarded Professor Van Vleck an honorary doctorate on June 6, 1916. Also the University of Wisconsin named a Hall for him on May 13, 1963, 20 years after his death.
As a hobby, Van Vleck was a major art collector, particularly in the medium of Japanese woodblock prints. Over a twenty year period he collected literally thousands of prints. In the late twenties he acquired about 4000 prints that had been owned by Frank Lloyd Wright. His collection includes more than 2000 prints by the Japanese artist, Utagawa Hiroshige, as well as many prints by Hokusai. Upon his death the collection was taken over by his son, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, who in turn donated the collection prior to his death to the University of Wisconsin. The entire collection is now on display at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin.
Edward Burr Van Vleck married Hester Laurence Raymond in 1893. The couple had one son, the Nobel Prize winner, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck. Edward Burr Van Vleck passed away on June 3, 1943 at Middletown, Connecticut.
Edward Burr Van Vleck, Van Vleck Biography, http://www.gap-system.org/~history/Biographies/Van_Vleck.html
Edward Burr Van Vleck, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Burr_Van_Vleck
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