Eminent mathematician and crossword puzzle setter

Michael Carroll: December 8th, 1936- January 17th, 2016

 

The Thurles-born mathematician Michael Carroll, who has died aged 79, was a former professor at the mechanical engineering department of the University of California, Berkeley, and dean of engineering at Rice University, Houston.

Carroll was something of a polymath, with more than 100 technical papers to his name, yet he is remembered not just for his research prowess and administrative flair but also for his kindness, wry wit, and for his crossword puzzles published in the New York Times. He was also a connoisseur of single malt Irish whiskey.

In tribute, Sid Burrus of Rice University described Carroll as “truly a ‘Renaissance man’, having many more dimensions than any other academic I have known. Mike was an academic, an Irishman, an engineer, a mathematician, a golfer, a poet, a playwright, a crossword puzzle creator, a jokester and a lover of his family.”

In the deep waters of applied mathematics, he was an “elastician” of international renown whose theories were used in the search for oil and minerals but also in the mechanics of sports. Prof Jim Casey, a former student of his at Berkeley, describes him as an academic who relied on his “incredible natural intelligence to solve difficult problems in real time”.

Excitement of discovery

On a campus where students had protested during the 1960s, Carroll served as ombudsman at UC Berkeley from 1969-71, advocating on behalf of students to resolve their grievances. Having earned his BA and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from University College, Galway in 1958 and 1959, respectively, Carroll moved to the US in 1960 and in 1965 gained his PhD from Brown University, where he studied under Ronald Rivlin, the pre-eminent authority in non-linear elasticity. He became a naturalised American citizen in 1970.

In 1965 he went to Berkeley as an assistant professor, becoming a full professor in 1975.

He held the title of Shell Distinguished Chair from 1983 to 1988, when he was headhunted by Rice University.

Challenge

Among his many honours, he received a DSc and LLD from the National University of Ireland. He was a fellow of both the American Academy of Mechanics and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Michael Carroll is survived by his widow, Carolyn, son Tim and daughter Patricia, and by their children.