Berlin 1909 - Canberra 2002


Brief scientific biography

Bernhard Hermann Neumann was born in Berlin on 15 October 1909. After studying at the Herderschule in Berlin and at the University of Freeburg, he obtained his Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Berlin in 1932 with a dissertation developed with the support of Herr Schur and devoted to what was later called the wreath product of groups (now known as Combinatorial Group Theory).
Being Jewish, he emigrated to Britain in 1933 (during a time of political upheaval in Germany), and continued his studies at Cambridge University, where he was awarded a second Ph.D. in 1935 for a dissertation in which he laid the foundations for the theory of varieties of groups.
His university career started as a temporary assistant lecturer in mathematics at Cardiff, where he spent three years. He was there in June 1940, when the Second World War started. Now Neumann's position as a German in England became a difficult one. He was briefly interned as an enemy alien; upon his release he joined the British Army, serving in the Intelligence Corps from 1940 to 1945.
In 1946 he was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Hull, and in 1948 he accepted a position at the University of Manchester, where he stayed for the next thirteen years.
He served on the Council of the London Mathematical Society from 1954 to 1961, and was its Vice-President from 1957 to 1959. In 1959 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London for his research in abstract algebra, and in particular for his numerous and influential contributions to the theory of infinite groups.
In 1962 Bernhard accepted an invitation to set up a research department of mathematics in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. He was appointed as Professor and Head of the Department. From the first beginning, Neumann was strongly engaged in improving and promoting Australian mathematics.
The first two international conferences on a mathematics topic in Australia in 1965 and 1973 were held under his leadership and devoted to the theory of groups. Both were notable for the quality of the main speakers and the range of countries from which they came. The first was also notable because Neumann was able to arrange for young people from overseas to earn their way by teaching at a university in Australia. A third international conference on the theory of groups was held in 1989 to mark his 80th birthday.

Bernhard was also active in mathematical circles in Australia. He served on the Council of the Australian Mathematical Society for over 15 years, including three terms as its Vice-President and one term as its President (1964-66), and in 1969 he founded the Bulletin of the Australian Mathematical Society, acting as its editor from then until 1979. He was elected an honorary member of the Australian Mathematical Society in 1981 and was further honoured by having a prize named after him for the most outstanding talk by a student at the Annual Meeting of the Society.
He was Chairman of the National Committee for Mathematics of the Australian Academy of Science from 1966 to 1975, and a member of the Council of the Australian Academy of Science from 1968 to 1971.
On retiring as Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics at the end of 1974, he was made Professor Emeritus and an Honorary Fellow of Australian National University.
Even following his retirement he has maintained a close association with organisations such as these.
In 1994 he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for service to the advancement of research and teaching in mathematics.
He was awarded honorary doctorates from a number of universities: the University of Newcastle (New South Wales), Monash University, the University of Western Australia, the University of Hull, the ANU, Waterloo University and the Humboldt University of Berlin.
He was also appointed a Senior Research Fellow at CSIRO for three years and then became an Honorary Research Fellow, reappointed annually until his death on 21 October 2002.
Bernhard's contributions to the mathematical community during his long career are remarkable. He has published over 100 research papers, supervised and gave valuable advice to numerous students and fellow workers, and lectured at many conferences and in universities all around the world.
Some of Bernhard's contributions to mathematics are recognised because they bear his name, such as the Higman-Neumann-Neumann construction for groups, the Douglas-Neumann theorem in geometry and the Mal'cev-Neumann construction for division rings.

His Commitment to Education

Bernhard Hermann Neumann was actively involved in the work of ICMI. He was the Australian Representative to ICMI from 1968 to 1975, a Member-at-large of ICMI from 1975 to 1982, and a member of the ICMI Executive Committee from 1979 to 1982.
He attended seven ICMEs, from the first held in Lyons in 1969 through to the seventh held in Québec in 1992. He was a member of the International Programme Committee for the third ICME, which was held in Karlsruhe in 1976 (M. F. NEWMAN 2000).
It was in Manchester (1948) that he started his active involvement with mathematics education, and more broadly through the Manchester Branch of the Mathematical Association of Great Britain.
In 1960 Bernhard was invited to become the Foundation Professor of Mathematics at the Australian National University with the special goal of establishing a Ph.D program. He held this position from 1962 until his retirement in 1974. Within days of his permanent arrival on 2 October 1962, Bernhard Neumann became involved in activities supporting the teaching of mathematics in schools. The following year he played a key role in forming a local association of teachers of mathematics, the Canberra Mathematical Association, and became its first president. He was part of a group which met in Adelaide in 1964 and decided to push for the formation of a national association. The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) was founded in 1966 with Bernhard as its first President. He became a regular participant in AAMT biennial conferences. Indeed, the memory most members have of him is that of a keen auditor, and his making pertinent contributions to subsequent discussion" (M. F. NEWMAN 2000).
He served an extended term on the National Committee for Mathematics (1963-75) and as part of Australian delegations to many meetings of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), held in conjunction with International Congresses of Mathematicians (ICM): he attended thirteen of these congresses. B. H. Neumann also served on the Exchange Commission of the IMU (1975-9), and he continued to serve the worldwide mathematical community with his regular edition of the l.M.U. Canberra Circular.
He chaired the panel discussion at the ICMI-Symposium on The Education of Mathematics Teachers at the ICM held in Helsinki in 1978.
His visibility at the early ICMEs lead to the suggestion (at Karlsruhe) that Australia consider hosting a forthcoming ICME (P. HILTON 1981, 350). He and other members of AAMT were able to respond with enthusiasm, and intensive work led to the successful bid to hold the 1984 Congress in Adelaide. There followed an unprecedented period of cooperative work across all sectors of mathematics education and mathematics, involving many Australians and a number of significant international figures, which resulted in the extremely successful Adelaide congress and much greater ongoing international recognition for the work of Australian mathematics educators.

In 1975 he also became an Honorary Member of the Canberra Mathematical Association, the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, and the New Zealand Mathematical Society.
In 'retirement' he gave considerable encouragement to Peter O'Halloran and his colleagues involved in the formative stages of what is now the internationally known Australian Mathematics Competition and maintained an active interest in it. Through the ICMI he also became involved in mathematical Olympiad activities, chairing the Australian Mathematical Olympiad Committee from its inception in 1980 until 1986. A better structure and operation of the International Mathematical Olympiads resulted from a Site Committee he chaired (1981-83). The holding of the 1988 International Mathematical Olympiads in Australia, in the bicentenary year, owed a great deal to him .

Primary bibliography

B. H. NEUMANN, H. NEUMANN 1988, Selected works of B H Neumann and Hanna Neumann, Winnipeg, MB

Essential bibliography

P. HILTON 1981, International Commission on Mathematical Instruction, L'Enseignement mathématique, 27, 347-350
M. CONDER 1989, Bernhard Hermann Neumann, New Zealand Mathematical Society Newsletter, 47, 20-22
M. F. NEWMAN 2002, In memoriam of Bernhard Neumann (1909-2002) , ICMI Bulletin, 51, 59-62
J. J. O'CONNOR, E. F. ROBERTSON, Bernhard Hermann Neumann,
B. CROMPTON 1998, Professor Bernhard Neumann (1909-2002) interviewed by Professor B. Crompton, in

Michela Malpangotto
SYRTE - Equipe des historiens