Mathematician Marijke Van Gans Died (1955 to 2009)

By Xah Lee. Date:

Just discovered that a long time acquaintance is dead. She is a mathematician, her name is Marijke Van Gans. Here's the obituary from London Mathematical Society at www.lms.ac.uk. Quote:

Dr Marijke van Gans, who was elected a member of the London Mathematical Society on 18 February 2003, died on 21 April 2009, aged 53.

Robert Curtis writes: Marijke was a highly original and exceptionally talented scholar and mathematician, who had become known internationally as a solver of demanding mathematical problems on the internet. She was a brilliant computer programmer and an inspirational mathematical expositor, as is witnessed by the many accolades to her on the web from people who have been enlightened by her insight.

She was born at Harns or Harlingen in the Netherlands but studied at the University of London from 1987–90, and later lived in Ireland, England and Scotland. Indeed, at one point she was one third of the winning Compuserve SCIMATH Forum Team whilst living on the Isle of Bute. One imagines her in a croft with a state-of-the-art laptop computer, but few other creature comforts! The other two members of her team lived in Wigan and in Memphis, Tennessee, and no two of the trio had ever met face to face.

Encouraged and commended by the many people she had impressed through her problem-solving online, she came to the University of Birmingham in 2004 to research into combinatorics under the supervision of Robert Curtis. Her thesis was entitled Topics in trivalent graphs and she was awarded the PhD degree in 2007.

She fell ill earlier this year and, sadly, the seriousness of her condition was not immediately recognised. The disease proved particularly virulent and she died rapidly; thus a unique mathematical talent is lost to us.

I met her online, in CompuServe, in around 1991 to 1994. I was a college student, and just started to learn math, at calculus level. In fact, was obsessed with math, and in particular enamored with recreational mathematics. I spend several hours online daily in CompuServe's math forum. At the time, internet as we know it today doesn't exist. Instead, there are few popular online services such as CompuServe in the era of BBS (Bulletin boards systems). (others popular at the time includes Delphi, Prodigy, AppleLink, and later on AOL.) In those times, you connect to the service by phone modem. I think my first modem is 300 baud rate. (roughly 300 bit/s.)

CompuServe has a Math forum. Basically, all math enthus gather and discuss math, of any sort at all levels. Marijke is there all the time, one of the top poster (contributor) in the forum. I learned many things from her, and have exachanged many personal writings with her. (there's no email as we know it today) I'll have to dig up my CompuServe archive to post some of her writings.

After 1994, i moved to Illinois to work as a intern at Wolfram Research. By 1995 the internet started in earnest, and BBS and CompuServe waned. I have not used CompuServe since about 1994. But have exchanged a email or two with Marijke once every few years. The last of our email exchange is in ~2003 (will dig up and possibly put here later.)

Marijke is a very idiosyncratic person, and she is a genius, in the sense that she is extremely intelligent, and diligent at solving hard problems, and completely love her subjects. She is the first person, in early 1990s, that i've seen to consistently use lower case “i” for “I”. (See: On “I” versus “i” (capitalization of first person pronoun))

In 2002, she solved a numerical analysis problem published by Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Here's a quote from her page:

This “Hundred Digit” Challenge consisted of ten numerical analysis problems, each having a single real number answer. For each, a maximum of ten points were available (one per correct significant digit).

The problems were published in SIAM News of Jan/Feb 2002, and later in Science and elsewhere. The answers and winners have now been announced by the Challenge's organiser, Prof. L. N. Trefethen of Oxford Univ., and a write-up will appear in the July/Aug 2002 issue of SIAM News.

94 teams (of one to six members each, and from all across the world) entered. Of these, 20 teams became joint winners by scoring a full hundred points. Among those is the team that was formed in the CompuServe SCIMATH forum, an online discussion message board, and consisted of Brian Medley (front, in the picture), Bernard B. Beard (centre), and Marijke van Gans (me, at the back).

I don't know Marijke well, but from what i know of her, she does not seem to have strong formal math background at least during early 1990s, but is rather a persistent and inventive lone genius who can solve hard professional math problems on her own, at age 40 or so. She is also a exert in physics.

Of what i know of her personally, she is a expert in Windows DOS/80x86 programing with the C language. I would estimate that her expertise here is probably within the world's top 1000 programers in this area. She has written several DOS programs. As usual with her works, her software is usually very idiosyncratic, however, is the most efficient. For example, when in late 1990s, DOS is practically obsolete, but she insists on writing her Windows software in DOS mode, with text based graphical user interface.

She has 2 websites. One is silicon-alley.com, started in 1996. It hosts her software. I started my website in 1997, using the same hosting service known as best.com at the time. And in 1999 she started maxwellian.demon.co.uk, which is her personal site with her writings about math, physics, software. You can see her sites at archive.org:

Some of her pages on archive.org seem to have been hacked by sex site spammers. Just disable background image.

Here's a screenshot of her silicon-alley site as i remember it.

Marijke Van Gans silicon alley site
Marijke's Silicon Alley website.

Two particular programs i've use are rotate At Source, and one called neganaut i think.