Jesse Douglas

Jesse Douglas (3 July 1897 – 7 September 1965) was an American mathematician and Fields Medalist known for his general solution to Plateau's problem.

Jesse Douglas
Portrait of Jesse Douglas in c. 1932.jpg
Douglas in c. 1932
Born(1897-07-03)July 3, 1897
DiedSeptember 7, 1965(1965-09-07) (aged 68)
New York City, New York, United States
Alma materCity College of New York
Columbia University
Known forSolution to Plateau's problem
Jessie Nayler
(m. 1940⁠–⁠1955)
ChildrenLewis Philip Douglas
AwardsFields Medal (1936)
Bôcher Memorial Prize (1943)
Scientific career
FieldsCalculus of variations
Differential geometry
InstitutionsCity College of New York
Doctoral advisorEdward Kasner

Life and careerEdit

He was born to a Jewish family[1] in New York City, the son of Sarah (née Kommel) and Louis Douglas. He attended City College of New York as an undergraduate, graduating with honors in Mathematics in 1916. He then moved to Columbia University as a graduate student, obtaining a PhD in mathematics in 1920.[2]

Douglas was one of two winners of the first Fields Medals, awarded in 1936. He was honored for solving, in 1930, the problem of Plateau, which asks whether a minimal surface exists for a given boundary. The problem, open since 1760 when Lagrange raised it, is part of the calculus of variations and is also known as the soap bubble problem. Douglas also made significant contributions to the inverse problem of the calculus of variations. The American Mathematical Society awarded him the Bôcher Memorial Prize in 1943.

Douglas later became a full professor at the City College of New York (CCNY), where he taught until his death. At the time CCNY only offered undergraduate degrees and Professor Douglas taught the advanced calculus course. Sophomores (and freshmen with advanced placement) were privileged to get their introduction to real analysis from a Fields medalist.

Selected papersEdit

  • Douglas, Jesse (1931). "Solution of the problem of Plateau". Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 33 (1): 263–321. doi:10.2307/1989472. JSTOR 1989472.
  • Douglas, Jesse (1939). "Green's function and the problem of Plateau". American Journal of Mathematics. 61 (3): 545–589. doi:10.2307/2371314. JSTOR 2371314. PMC 1077111. PMID 16588237.
  • Douglas, Jesse (1939). "The most general form of the problem of Plateau". American Journal of Mathematics. 61 (3): 590–608. doi:10.2307/2371315. JSTOR 2371315. PMC 1077112. PMID 16588238.
  • Douglas, Jesse (1939). "Solution of the inverse problem of the calculus of variations". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 25 (12): 631–637. Bibcode:1939PNAS...25..631D. doi:10.1073/pnas.25.12.631. PMC 1077987. PMID 16588312.
  • Douglas, Jesse (1940). "A new special form of the linear element of a surface". Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 48: 101–116. doi:10.1090/s0002-9947-1940-0002242-2. MR 0002242.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Peter Lax, Mathematician: An Illustrated Memoir, by Reuben Hersh (American Mathematical Soc. 2014), page 102
  2. ^ "Jesse Douglas (1897-1965)".


  • Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York 1970–1990)
  • Biography in Encyclopædia Britannica (Aug. 2003)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit