Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter

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Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter

Born(1907-02-09)9 February 1907
London, England
Died31 March 2003(2003-03-31) (aged 96)
Alma mater University of Cambridge (B.A., 1929; Ph.D., 1931)
Known for Coxeter element
Coxeter functor
Coxeter graph
Coxeter group
Coxeter matroid
Coxeter notation
Coxeter's loxodromic sequence of tangent circles
Coxeter–Dynkin diagram
Coxeter–Todd lattice
Boerdijk–Coxeter helix
Goldberg–Coxeter construction
Todd–Coxeter algorithm*
Tutte–Coxeter graph
LCF notation
Spouse(s)Hendrina, died in 1999
Childrena daughter, Susan Thomas, and a son, Edgar
Scientific career
Fields Geometry
Institutions University of Toronto
Doctoral advisor H. F. Baker [1]
Doctoral students

Harold Scott MacDonald "Donald" Coxeter, CC , FRS , FRSC (9 February 1907 31 March 2003) [2] was a British and later also Canadian geometer. He is regarded as one of the greatest geometers of the 20th century. [3]



Coxeter was born in Kensington to Harold Samuel Coxeter and Lucy ( née Gee). His father had taken over the family business of Coxeter & Son, manufacturers of surgical instruments and compressed gases (including a mechanism for anaesthetising surgical patients with nitrous oxide), but was able to retire early and focus on sculpting and baritone singing; Lucy Coxeter was a portrait and landscape painter who had attended the Royal Academy of Arts. A maternal cousin was the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. [4] [2]

In his youth, Coxeter composed music and was an accomplished pianist at the age of 10. [5] He felt that mathematics and music were intimately related, outlining his ideas in a 1962 article on "Music and Mathematics" in the Canadian Music Journal. [5]

He was educated at King Alfred School, London and St George's School, Harpenden, where his best friend was John Flinders Petrie, later a mathematician for whom Petrie polygons were named. He was accepted at King's College, Cambridge in 1925, but decided to spend a year studying in hopes of gaining admittance to Trinity College, where the standard of mathematics was higher. [2] Coxeter won an entrance scholarship and went to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1926 to read mathematics. There he earned his BA (as Senior Wrangler) in 1928, and his doctorate in 1931. [5] [6] In 1932 he went to Princeton University for a year as a Rockefeller Fellow, where he worked with Hermann Weyl, Oswald Veblen, and Solomon Lefschetz. [6] Returning to Trinity for a year, he attended Ludwig Wittgenstein's seminars on the philosophy of mathematics. [5] In 1934 he spent a further year at Princeton as a Procter Fellow. [6]

In 1936 Coxeter moved to the University of Toronto. In 1938 he and P. Du Val, H.T. Flather, and John Flinders Petrie published The Fifty-Nine Icosahedra with University of Toronto Press. In 1940 Coxeter edited the eleventh edition of Mathematical Recreations and Essays, [7] originally published by W. W. Rouse Ball in 1892. He was elevated to professor in 1948. Coxeter was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1948 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1950. He met M. C. Escher in 1954 and the two became lifelong friends; his work on geometric figures helped inspire some of Escher's works, particularly the Circle Limit series based on hyperbolic tessellations. He also inspired some of the innovations of Buckminster Fuller. [6] Coxeter, M. S. Longuet-Higgins and J. C. P. Miller were the first to publish the full list of uniform polyhedra (1954). [8]

He worked for 60 years at the University of Toronto and published twelve books.

Personal life

Coxeter was a vegetarian. He attributed his longevity to his vegetarian diet, daily exercise such as fifty press-ups and standing on his head for fifteen minutes each morning, and consuming a nightly cocktail made from Kahlua, peach schnapps, and soy milk. [4]


Since 1978, the Canadian Mathematical Society have awarded the Coxeter–James Prize in his honor.

He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1950 and in 1997 he was awarded their Sylvester Medal. [6] In 1990, he became a Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences [9] and in 1997 was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. [10]

In 1973 he received the Jeffery–Williams Prize. [6]

A festschrift in his honour, The Geometric Vein, was published in 1982. It contained 41 essays on geometry, based on a symposium for Coxeter held at Toronto in 1979. [11] A second such volume, The Coxeter Legacy, was published in 2006 based on a Toronto Coxeter symposium held in 2004. [12]


See also

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  1. Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. 1 2 3 Roberts, Siobhan; Ivić Weiss, Asia (2006). Longair, Malcolm (ed.). "Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter. 9 February 1907 — 31 March 2003: Elected FRS 1950". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 52: 45–66. doi: 10.1098/rsbm.2006.0004 . ISSN   1748-8494.
  3. "Geometry Revisited". Mathematical Association of America . Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  4. 1 2 "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" . Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/89876.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. 1 2 3 4 Roberts, Siobhan, King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, The Man Who Saved Geometry, Walker & Company, 2006, ISBN   0-8027-1499-4
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive , University of St Andrews
  7. Frame, J. S. (1940). "Review: Mathematical Recreations and Essays, 11th edition, by W. W. Rouse Ball; revised by H. S. M. Coxeter" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 45 (3): 211–213. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1940-07170-8.
  8. Harold Coxeter, Michael S. Longuet-Higgins and J. C. P. Miller. "Uniform Polyhedra", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 246: 401–50 doi : 10.1098/rsta.1954.0003
  9. Foreign Honorary Member elected 1990 [ permanent dead link ] 2016 American Academy of Arts & Sciences
  10. Office of the Governor General of Canada . Order of Canada citation . Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 26 May 2010
  11. Edge, W. L. (June 1983). "Review of The Geometric Vein". Proceedings of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society. 26 (2): 284–285. doi: 10.1017/s0013091500017016 .
  12. Davis, Chandler; Ellers, Erich, eds. (2006). The Coxeter Legacy. Providence, Rhode Island: American Mathematical Society. ISBN   978-0821837221.
  13. Blumenthal, L. M. (1943). "Review: Non-euclidean geometry by H. S. M. Coxeter" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 49 (9): 679–680. doi: 10.1090/s0002-9904-1943-07977-3 .
  14. DuVal, Patrick (1950). "Review: The real projective plane by H. S. M. Coxeter" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 56 (4): 376–378. doi: 10.1090/s0002-9904-1950-09414-2 .
  15. Hall Jr., Marshall (1958). "Review: Generators and relations for discrete groups by H. S. M. Coxeter and W. O. J. Moser" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society . 64, Part 1 (3): 106–108. doi: 10.1090/S0002-9904-1958-10178-0 .
  16. Freudenthal, H. (1962). "Review: Introduction to geometry by H. S. M. Coxeter" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 68 (2): 55–59. doi: 10.1090/s0002-9904-1962-10714-9 .
  17. Levi, H. (1963). "Review: Introduction to Geometry by H. S. M. Coxeter". The Journal of Philosophy. 60 (1): 19–21. doi:10.2307/2023059. JSTOR   2023059.

Further reading