René Thom
René Thom  

René Thom in Nice, 1970


Born 
Montbéliard, France 
2 September 1923
Died  25 October 2002 BuressurYvette, France 
(aged 79)
Nationality  French 
Alma mater  École Normale Supérieure, University of Paris 
Known for  topology 
Awards  Fields Medal in 1958 
Scientific career  
Fields  Mathematics 
Institutions 
University of Strasbourg Université Joseph Fourier Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques 
Thesis  Espaces fibres en spheres et carres de Steenrod (1951) 
Doctoral advisor  Henri Cartan 
Doctoral students 
Daniel Bennequin Bernard Morin David Trotman 
René Frédéric Thom (French: [ʁəne tõ]; 2 September 1923 – 25 October 2002) was a French mathematician. He made his reputation as a topologist, moving on to aspects of what would be called singularity theory; he became worldfamous among the wider academic community and the educated general public for one aspect of this latter interest, his work as founder of catastrophe theory (later developed by Erik Christopher Zeeman). He received the Fields Medal in 1958.
Biography
René Thom was born in Montbéliard, Doubs. He was educated at the Lycée SaintLouis and the École Normale Supérieure, both in Paris. He received his PhD in 1951 from the University of Paris. His thesis, titled Espaces fibrés en sphères et carrés de Steenrod (Sphere bundles and Steenrod squares), was written under the direction of Henri Cartan. The foundations of cobordism theory, for which he received the Fields Medal at Edinburgh in 1958, were already present in his thesis.
After a fellowship in the United States, he went on to teach at the Universities of Grenoble (1953–1954) and Strasbourg (1954–1963), where he was appointed Professor in 1957. In 1964, he moved to the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, in BuressurYvette. He was awarded the Brouwer Medal in 1970, the Grand Prix Scientifique de la Ville de Paris in 1974, and became a Member of the Académie des Sciences of Paris in 1976.
While René Thom is most known to the public for his development of catastrophe theory between 1968 and 1972, his earlier work was on differential topology. In the early 1950s it concerned what are now called Thom spaces, characteristic classes, cobordism theory, and the Thom transversality theorem. Another example of this line of work is the Thom conjecture, versions of which have been investigated using gauge theory. From the mid 1950s he moved into singularity theory, of which catastrophe theory is just one aspect, and in a series of deep (and at the time obscure) papers between 1960 and 1969 developed the theory of stratified sets and stratified maps, proving a basic stratified isotopy theorem describing the local conical structure of Whitney stratified sets, now known as the ThomMather isotopy theorem. Much of his work on stratified sets was developed so as to understand the notion of topologically stable maps, and to eventually prove the result that the set of topologically stable mappings between two smooth manifolds is a dense set. Thom's lectures on the stability of differentiable mappings, given at Bonn in 1960, were written up by Harold Levine and published in the proceedings of a year long symposium on singularities at Liverpool University during 196970, edited by Terry Wall. The proof of the density of topologically stable mappings was completed by John Mather in 1970, based on the ideas developed by Thom in the previous ten years. A coherent detailed account was published in 1976 by C. Gibson, K. Wirthmuller, E. Looijenga and A. du Plessis.
During the last twenty years of his life Thom's published work was mainly in philosophy and epistemology, and he undertook a reevaluation of Aristotle's writings on science. In 1992, he was one of eighteen academics who sent a letter to Cambridge University protesting against plans to award Jacques Derrida an honorary doctorate.
Beyond Thom's contributions to algebraic topology, he studied differentiable mappings, through the study of generic properties.
See also
 Dold–Thom theorem
 Heisuke Hironaka
 Quelques propriétés globales des variétés differentiables
 Thom isomorphism
 Pontryagin–Thom construction
 Thom–Porteous formula
Bibliography
 "Espaces fibrés en sphères et carrés de Steenrod", Annales Scientifiques de l'École Normale Supérieure (3) 69, (1952), 109–182.
 Thom, René (1954), "Quelques propriétés globales des variétés différentiables", Commentarii Mathematici Helvetici, 28: 17–86, doi:10.1007/BF02566923, MR 0061823
 "Ensembles et morphismes stratifiés", Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 75 (1969), 240–284.
 "Semio Physics: A Sketch", Addison Wesley, (1990), ISBN 0201500604
 Structural Stability and Morphogenesis, W. A. Benjamin, (1972), ISBN 0201406853.
References
 Petitot, Jean, ed. (1996). Logos et Théorie des Catastrophes: à partir de l’oeuvre de René Thom. Colloque de CerisylaSalle 1982. Geneva: Patiño. ISBN 2882130104.
 Aubin, David (2004). "Forms of Explanations in the Catastrophe Theory of René Thom: Topology, Morphogenesis, and Structuralism" (PDF). In Wise, M. N. Growing Explanations: Historical Perspective on the Sciences of Complexity. Durham: Duke University Press. pp. 95–130.
 Reilly, Brian J. (2006). "René Thom". In Kritzman, Lawrence D. The Columbia History of TwentiethCentury French Thought. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 663–666. ISBN 0231107919.
 Weil, Martin (November 17, 2002). "French Mathematician René Thom Dies". Washington Post. p. C10.
External links
Wikimedia Commons has media related to René Thom. 
 O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "René Thom", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
 Washington Post Online edition (free registration)
 Meeting René THOM
 1923 births
 2002 deaths
 People from Montbéliard
 20thcentury mathematicians
 École Normale Supérieure alumni
 Recipients of the National Order of Scientific Merit (Brazil)
 Fields Medalists
 Brouwer Medalists
 French mathematicians
 French semioticians
 Members of the French Academy of Sciences
 Institute for Advanced Study visiting scholars
 Theoretical biologists
 Topologists
 Lycée SaintLouis alumni
 University of Strasbourg faculty