Professor of Mathematics Erwin Lutwak Might Be Feted in in the World’s Capitals but Brooklyn Remains Home

In 1980 Professor Erwin Lutwak was invited to the Vienna University of Technology to give the very first colloquium address of his career. The Austrian capital has long been considered one of the world’s foremost centers for the study of convex geometric analysis, his area of expertise, and in subsequent years, he regularly returned to the venerable school, which had been founded in 1815 and which is now known in Austria as Technische Universität Wien or TU Wein. His most recent invitation was for an especially auspicious occasion: he was being awarded an honorary doctoral degree. It was a rare honor, as TU Wein generally bestows only one such degree per year.

Lutwak, who has headed the Department of Mathematics at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering since 1998, was being honored for his decades of work related to geometric tomography, which seeks to discern information about a high-dimensional object when only lower-dimensional information is available, such as is the case with a medical CT scan. He was cited specifically for his formulation of the dual Brunn Minkowski theory, which helped answer questions that the classic Brunn-Minkowski theory, first proposed in the late 19th century, could not. Lutwak was also lauded for his later work on what is now called the Lp-Brunn-Minkowski theory, which, among other things, also allows mathematicians to translate results from geometry to results in analysis and on which he collaborated with fellow School of Engineering professors Deane Yang and Gaoyong Zhang. (In recent years, the three have also found that their work even has utility in the electrical engineering area of information theory and has appeared in a number of IEEE publications.)

“We are very pleased that Erwin Lutwak has devoted much of his life to the School of Engineering,” said Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan, alluding to the fact that Lutwak earned his undergraduate degree here in 1968, his master’s in 1972, and his Ph.D. in 1974 and then remained to teach, becoming a full professor in 1986. “As a dedicated teacher and mentor to many young students and as a wonderfully collaborative colleague, he exemplifies the commitment we seek in all our faculty. He richly deserves this honor.”   

Lutwak — who spent the earliest years of his childhood in the former Soviet Union, Romania, Israel, Italy, and Venezuela--settled in Brooklyn when he was 10 and attended the borough’s public schools before entering what was then known as the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Any honor he receives, he says, is also a reflection on his alma mater. "The Vienna University of Technology has been kind and generous to me — and to our Department in Brooklyn — from the early days of my career,” he says. “But not in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined that they'd award me an honorary doctorate. It would be difficult to overstate how deeply grateful I am."

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