Franklin P. Peterson, Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics
Published: September 12, 2000
Professor of Mathematics Franklin P. Peterson died on Friday, Sept. 1. He suffered a stroke while visiting friends near Washington, D.C. He was 70 years old.
Peterson was a widely respected mathematician, making many contributions to the field of algebraic topology. In particular, he studied cohomology rings, which bridge the boundary between abstract topology and other disciplines of geometry.
"Algebraic topology is his field, but he is remarkable in his ability to go beyond that," said the late Professor of Mathematics Gian-Carlo Rota of Peterson in 1997. “He does a wide variety of things.”
At MIT, he was a well-liked teacher, known for his approachability, friendliness, and willingness to answer even the simplest questions. He regularly taught topology classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, most recently Linear Algebra (18.700), Introduction to Topology (18.901), and Algebraic Topology (18.905 and 18.906).
Peterson was editor of the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society from 1966 to 1970 and later served as treasurer of the AMS for nearly 25 years, taking office in 1974 and retiring in 1998.
Peterson was born in Aurora, Ill. and attended Northwestern University, earning the S.B. in 1952. He did his graduate studies at Princeton University, under Norman E. Steenrod, one of the creators of algebraic topology. He received his Ph.D. in 1955.
After graduate school, he was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and a lecturer at Princeton from 1956 to 1958. In 1958, he joined the MIT faculty, becoming a full professor in 1965. In the meantime, he was a Smith-Mundt Lecturer at the University of Mexico in 1959 and an Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Fellow at Oxford University during the 1960-1961 academic year.
At MIT, Peterson served as thesis adviser to 23 graduate students, and he served three terms as chair of the Pure Math Committee of the mathematics department.
Professor Peterson is survived by his wife, Marilyn. He was buried on Thursday in Naperville, Ill. A memorial honoring him at MIT is being planned.