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Ruth Ingrid Michler 1967-2000

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The following article appeared in the AWM Newsletter, January-February 2001 (Vol 31 #1, p.4-6).

We report with great sadness the death of AWM member Dr. Ruth Michler in Boston on November 1, 2000.  Ruth, an Associate Professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, was spending the year as a Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University on an NSF POWRE (mid career) grant. She died in a tragic accident with a construction vehicle, while waiting to cross a busy intersection near the campus. Ruth was buried on November 10, 2000 in Essen, Germany, where she is survived by her parents and a sister.

Ruth Ingrid Michler was born on March 8, 1967, in Ithaca, NY.  Her father is a mathematician and her family was visiting Cornell University at the time. From April 1968 to March 1973 Ruth spent her childhood in Tuebingen. From April 1973 to March 1978 she went to primary school and high school in Giessen. Since 1978 her family has lived in Essen, and Ruth graduated from high school there in 1985.   She always enjoyed learning foreign languages and had deep interests in sciences, fine arts and music.

Ruth attended Oxford University for her undergraduate studies, receiving a BA summa cum laude in mathematics in 1988. Her tutors at Balliol College were Dr. K.C. Hannabuss and Dr. Frances Kirwan.  While at Oxford she won a Jenkyns essay prize for her paper "Black Holes," under the direction of Roger Penrose.   Ruth went on to do graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Professors Mariusz Wodzicki and Arthur Ogus, receiving her Ph.D. in 1993.  Her dissertation was titled "Hodge components of cyclic homology of affine hypersurfaces."  After graduating, Ruth was invited by Professor L.G. Roberts to work as a postdoctoral fellow for a year at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Although her family lived in Germany, Ruth decided that her professional career would be spent in the United States.  In 1994, she accepted a tenure-track position at the University of North Texas in Denton. She was promoted to Associate Professor and awarded tenure in August, 2000.

As a mathematician, Ruth worked primarily in the area of cyclic homology and singularity theory and since her  graduation from Berkeley she had made solid contributions to this field.  She had seven articles printed or in press, with several more in preparation or submitted. In her papers on reduced isolated hypersurface singularities she showed that cyclic homology is a direct sum of Hochschild homology and de Rham cohomology. Furthermore, she gave some algorithms to compute these invariants. Ruth brought an intensity to everything she did, and her mathematical work reflected this intensity. In her research, Ruth used techniques from several different areas of mathematics and combined very abstract theory with concrete calculations of examples, using computer programs such as Macaulay and Maple.  She was persistent, returning to problems again and again, approaching them from different viewpoints, and discussing variations and improvements with colleagues in related areas.

Ruth traveled considerably and gave talks at a variety of conferences, including AMS meetings in South Africa and Belgium.  In 1996, she gave a talk at the AWM workshop for recent Ph.D.'s at the AMS meeting in Orlando and in 1997  she  visited the Fields Institute in Toronto as a postdoctoral fellow.  Ruth quickly became involved in organizing conferences and seminars, as well as attending them.  She initiated a joint seminar for the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Texas Christian University, which she called the AGANT (Algebraic Geometry, Algebra and Number Theory ) Seminar.   With Professor Caroline Grant Melles, Ruth organized three AMS special sessions on singularities in algebraic and analytic geometry and was planning two more conferences. Ruth felt strongly that a meeting should be more than just a sequence of short presentations.  She organized social events, and she lengthened the talks so that speakers could discuss their work in more depth.  She also scheduled informal question/problem sessions in the evenings and successfully persuaded most of the participants to attend these sessions. Ruth and Caroline co-edited a book of proceedings from the first of these special sessions.  This book, "Singularities in Algebraic and Analytic Geometry," was recently published as volume 266 of the AMS Contemporary Mathematics series.

Ruth applied for and received several grants to travel and conduct research. Most recently, she received a Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Education (POWRE) grant from the National Science Foundation. With this grant, she intended to focus exclusively on her research for the year, primarily working with Professors Tony Iarrobino and Marc Levine at Northeastern University.   Ruth was tremendously excited to be in Boston for the year. In the short two and a half months since arriving in Boston, she had started new projects, and had given several talks, including one at Boston University on October 30.  She had also given a talk at the AMS Special Session on Singularities at San Francisco on October 22, which she co-organized.  On the blackboard in her office was the short proof of a new theorem, written October 31, 2000.  Ruth was interested in extending her stay in Boston, and was in the process of completing her application for a Bunting Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on the day she died.

Ruth brought intensity and energy into other areas of her life. She was an incredibly outgoing and friendly person.  She talked to everyone and, while she often held (and expressed) strong opinions, she put a high value on the friendships she had developed. She made it a point to reach out to female mathematicians, encouraging them in their research by inviting them to give talks.  Ruth was also generous with her time, serving as acting director of the Integration Bee for the UNT Math Awareness Week, recruiting graduate students for the program at UNT, and volunteering this past September for the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk to benefit children with cancer.  She was an avid music lover and held season tickets for the Dallas Opera and, more recently, for a series of performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Ruth was a dedicated long-distance runner.  She ran daily, along with cycling to work, and completed over 23 marathons in the past six years, including the Boston Marathon.  Ruth had recently begun running "ultra marathons" - extremely long distance races.  She completed the 100-mile Leadville Trail in Texas in August, 1999, and was excited about running the Chancellor Challenge 100K race in Boston in October, where she came in tenth among the women. She ran the Cape Cod Marathon on October 29, 2000, barely two weeks after the 100K race.

Ruth inspired all those who knew her with her tremendous vitality and the enthusiasm which she brought to all her endeavors.  Her energy, her determination, and her love of mathematics remain vividly in our memories. She is greatly missed.

Written by
Maura Mast,  University of Massachusetts, Boston, and
Caroline Grant Melles, US Naval Academy,
with assistance from
Tony Iarrobino, Northeastern University

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