Israel Gelfand

Israel Moiseevich Gelfand, also written Israïl Moyseyovich Gel'fand, or Izrail M. Gelfand (Yiddish: ישראל געלפֿאַנד‎, Russian: Изра́иль Моисе́евич Гельфа́нд, Ukrainian: Ізраїль Мойсейович Гельфанд; 2 September [O.S. 20 August] 1913 – 5 October 2009) was a prominent Soviet mathematician. He made significant contributions to many branches of mathematics, including group theory, representation theory and functional analysis. The recipient of many awards, including the Order of Lenin and the first Wolf Prize, he was a Foreign Fellow of the Royal Society and professor at Moscow State University and, after immigrating to the United States shortly before his 76th birthday, at Rutgers University. Gelfand is also a 1994 MacArthur Fellow.

Israïl Moiseevich Gelfand
IM Gelfand.jpg
Born(1913-09-02)September 2, 1913
DiedOctober 5, 2009(2009-10-05) (aged 96)
New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States
NationalitySoviet Union
Alma materMoscow State University
Known forGroup theory, Representation theory, mathematical analysis
Gelfand–Levitan–Marchenko integral equation
Liouville–Bratu–Gelfand equation
Integral geometry
Gelfand-Pettis integral
Gelfand representation
Gelfand–Naimark theorem
AwardsOrder of Lenin (three times)
ForMemRS (1977)
Wolf Prize (1978)
Wigner Medal (1980)
Kyoto Prize in Mathematical Sciences (1989)
AMS Steele Prize (2005)
Scientific career
InstitutionsMoscow State University
Rutgers University
Doctoral advisorAndrey Kolmogorov
Doctoral studentsGeorgy Adelson-Velsky
Felix Berezin
Joseph Bernstein
Victor Ginzburg
Alexander Goncharov
Tanya Khovanova
Alexandre Kirillov
Georgiy Shilov
Endre Szemerédi
Andrei Zelevinsky
Vitalii Ditkin

His legacy continues through his students, who include Endre Szemerédi, Alexandre Kirillov, Edward Frenkel,[1] Joseph Bernstein, David Kazhdan, as well as his own son, Sergei Gelfand.

Early yearsEdit

A native of Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire (now, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine), Gelfand was born into a Jewish family in the small southern Ukrainian town of Okny. According to his own account, Gelfand was expelled from high school under the Soviets because his father had been a mill owner. Bypassing both high school and college, he proceeded to postgraduate study at the age of 19 at Moscow State University, where his advisor was the preeminent mathematician Andrei Kolmogorov.[2]


Gelfand is known for many developments including:

I.M. Gelfand's seminar at Moscow State University was running from 1945(?) until May 1989 (then it continued at Rutgers University), covered a wide range of topics, and was an important school for many mathematicians.[4][5][6]

Influence outside mathematicsEdit

The Gelfand–Tsetlin (also spelled Zetlin) basis is a widely used tool in theoretical physics and the result of Gelfand's work on the representation theory of the unitary group and Lie groups in general.

Gelfand also published works on biology and medicine.[7] For a long time he took an interest in cell biology and organized a research seminar on the subject.[8][9]

He worked extensively in mathematics education, particularly with correspondence education. In 1994, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for this work.


Gelfand was married to Zorya Shapiro, and their two sons, Sergei and Vladimir both live in the United States. The third son, Aleksandr, died of leukemia. Following the divorce from his first wife, Gelfand married his second wife, Tatiana; together they had a daughter, Tatiana. The family also includes four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.[10][11] Memories about I. Gelfand are collected at a dedicated website handled by his family.[12]

Honors and awardsEdit

Gelfand held several honorary degrees and was awarded the Order of Lenin three times for his research. In 1977 he was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. He won the Wolf Prize in 1978, Kyoto Prize in 1989 and MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1994. He held the presidency of the Moscow Mathematical Society between 1968 and 1970, and was elected a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Irish Academy, the American Mathematical Society and the London Mathematical Society.

In an October 2003 article in The New York Times, written on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Gelfand is described as a scholar who is considered "among the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century",[13] having exerted a tremendous influence on the field both through his own works and those of his students.


Israel Gelfand died at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital near his home in Highland Park, New Jersey. He was less than five weeks past his 96th birthday. His death was first reported on the blog of his former collaborator Andrei Zelevinsky[14] and confirmed a few hours later by an obituary in the Russian online newspaper[15]


See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Edward Frenkel (2013). "preface". Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465050741. One of my teachers, the great Israel Gelfand
  2. ^ "Science Obituaries: Israel Gelfand". The Telegraph. London. 26 Oct 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  3. ^ Gel'fand, I.M.; N.Ya.Vilenkin (1964), Generalized Functions, Academic Press, p. 375, ISBN 0-12-279504-0
  4. ^ M.I. Vishik, G.E. Shilov, I.M. Gel'fand Seminar on Functional Analysis and Mathematical Physics in Moscow State University (in Russian), Uspekhi Mat. Nauk, 13:2(80) (1958), 253-263.
  5. ^ Конспекты М.А. Шубина с семинаров И.М. Гельфанда
  6. ^ Александр Бейлинсон, И. М. Гельфанд и его семинар (I. M. Gelfand and his seminar — a presence)
  7. ^ ru:Гельфанд, Израиль Моисеевич
  8. ^ V.I. Agol, Notes about I.M. Gelfand’s Seminar, Russian Journal Developmental Biology, Volume 39 (2008), Number 6, 367-368.
  9. ^ L.V. Beloussov, Short notes about Gelfand’s Seminar, Russian Journal Developmental Biology, Volume 39 (2008), Number 6, 369-370.
  10. ^ Chang, Kenneth. "Israel Gelfand, Math Giant, Dies at 96", The New York Times (October 7, 2009)
  11. ^ Stewart, Ian (November 8, 2009). "Israel Gelfand obituary". The Guardian. London.
  12. ^ site dedicated to Israel M. Gelfand
  13. ^ Kochman, Marilyn. "In Person: An Equation for Success", The New York Times (October 5, 2003)
  14. ^ (in Russian) "Скончался И.М. Гельфанд" ("I.M. Gelfand has died"), accessed 2009-10-06
  15. ^ "5 октября ушел из жизни выдающийся математик Израиль Моисеевич Гельфанд. "Эпоха Гельфанда ушла, но она продолжится в существующих поколениях" {"Renowned Mathematician Israil Moiseyevich Gelfand Departed on October 5. Gelfand's era has gone, but it shall continue in succeeding generations"}
  16. ^ a b c d e Guillemin, Victor (1980). "Review: Generalized functions, by I. M. Gel'fand and G. E. Shilov". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.). 3 (1, Part 1): 758–762. doi:10.1090/s0273-0979-1980-14813-2.
  17. ^ Catanese, Fabrizio (2000). "Review: Discriminants, resultants, and multidimensional determinants, by I. M. Gelfand, M. M. Kapranov, and A. V. Zelevinsky". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.). 37 (2): 183–198. doi:10.1090/s0273-0979-99-00858-7.
  18. ^ Roberts, David P. (2009). "Review: Discriminants, Resultants, and Multidimensional Determinants, by I. M. Gelfand, M. M. Kapranov, and A. V. Zelevinsky". Mathematical Association of America. Retrieved 1 Jul 2020.


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