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Math professor Israel Koltracht dies

by Sherry Fisher - February 25, 2008

Israel Koltracht, professor of mathematics, died Feb. 17. He was 59.

Koltracht, who lived in Storrs, joined the UConn faculty in 1987.

“He was an internationally respected expert in the areas of numerical linear algebra, numerical analysis, and computational mathematical physics,” says Professor Michael Neumann, chair of the mathematics department.

Neumann says the department has been receiving e-mails from colleagues, former students, and friends from around the world expressing condolences.

“They all echo the same sentiments,” he says, “what a dedicated and helpful colleague, teacher, and advisor Israel was. He will be deeply missed.”

Neumann says Koltracht contributed much to interdisciplinary research at UConn, in particular to cooperation between the mathematics and physics departments.

Koltracht received his master’s degree from the USSR Academy of Sciences at Novosibirsk and his Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

He went on to become a research associate at Stanford University, and held a similar position at the University of Calgary.

Vadim Olshevsky, a professor of mathematics, says Koltracht “made first-rate contributions to the area of matrix computations,” adding that his other scientific contributions “had a remarkably strong influence on the concurrent development of modern structured scientific computing.

“I think we have lost one of the leading experts in the field of structured matrices, a truly irreplaceable colleague and a terrific friend,” Olshevsky says.

George Rawitscher, professor of physics, worked closely with Koltracht. The two jointly taught a graduate course in scientific modeling.

“We taught the course over the years, and out of it came a paper in 1996 published with our students,” Rawitscher says.

“Since then, we have been collaborating on research. He taught me very interesting properties of spectral expansions of functions, which, when applied to physics problems, permitted very elegant numerical solutions. And out of that research work came seven more papers.”

Rawitscher says Koltracht was “a kind and caring person. People found him to be a gentle soul, always kind and helpful.”

Koltracht is survived by his wife Marina, a daughter, Jane, and a son, Michael.

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