1992 News of Member Frank Harary

From BICA (7) 1993

Harary Honoured by Exeter
Honorary Degree Oration, delivered by the Public Orator,
Professor Christopher Holdsworth, at the University of Exeter
on the afternoon of 17 July, 1992. Citation of:
Frank Harary
for the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa

Frank Harary, Vice-Chancellor, is here today not because he is a distinguished person with close links to the West Country-he has often visited the University and given seminars here-but because of his stature as a mathematician. He is recognised as the world authority in Graph Theory, a branch of Pure Mathematics, a mystery which I shall try to elucidate in a moment. When I do I shall largely depend upon words which he was good enough to send to me, because I was unable to follow usual practice and visit him: since I did not ~ink that you would have responded cheerily if I had put m an expenses shp to travel out to the State University of New Mexico where he is at present Distinguished  rofessor of Computer Science. I am therefore treading on the edges of plagiarism in what follows, because
his words were so very vivid.

Frank Harary is a New Yorker, born in the City and educated at one of its great institutions, Brooklyn College, where he obtained his BA and MA in 1941 and 1945. After a year at Princeton studying theoretical physics, and another year at New York University for applied mathematics, he shook the
soil of the east coast from his feet, and went to California working there for his PhD which he obtained in 1948. That year he made a decisive move to the heartland of the United States, Michigan, and its university at Ann Arbor, surely one of the most attractive campuses among major American
universities where he was  to stay until 1986. By one of those strange twists of life, he was within two years to find his life work through the existence of the Research Center for Group Dynamics in the Institute for Social Res~arch. Two scholars there, Leon Festinger and Dorwin Cartwright, had obtained what was then a large grant of $50,000 to study the feasability of applying mathematical models to the study of structures of groups of people. They were able to create a half-time post in the Center, and to agree with the Mathematics Department that they should fund the other half, and this
was the job which Harary got in 1950, against the wishes of his own Head of Department, who had offered it to no less than three people, a German, a Japanese, and an American, who had each turned it down, and instead used the offer to obtain promotion in their home universities. This opened up for
him a creative situation which was to suit his gifts admirably.

The crucial moment, as reported to me by Frank Harary, has a reminiscence of the repercussions of that famous falling apple on the head of Isaac Newton. Just two months after he got the post, he was sitting in his office in the Center when Leon Festinger burst in and shouted "We don't want you here to play with these boolean functions; we want you to help us study PEOPLE! Here is a person.''. Festinger then drew on the blackboard a big point, added three more and joined them up to make a square, across which he drew another line to make a diagonal. This he said showed the structure of a. group, the points were people, and the line segmented interpersonal relationships, and that was what he wanted him to study. Apparently this sight of a graph (note here graph does not mean what you and I as nonmathematicians usually think it does) was for Harary a love at first sight and so he put away his previous plans for research and stayed faithful to his new love for the rest of his life.

The theory of these graphs was scarcely explored when he began to work with them: there had been perhaps ten men, then no women, in the field, although they . included some of the greatest names in mathematics, people like Berge, Dirac and Tutte: At first his own papers appeared mainly in mathematical and psychological Journals, but gradually applications of the theory in anthropology, biology, chemistry, computer geography, physics, political science, and statistics, began to appear. It is quite clear that Harary had struck a rich vein of description and analysis, and that he was the kind of person who could explain his ideas clearly to many different kinds of scholar, and get their cooperation to explore graph theory in their own area. Five of his six books have been written with another person, and he has edited as many as nine collections of studies in the field. Not surprisingly he has served on the editorial board of many journals, because as he puts it, he was taught to write clearly when the great theoretical physicist George Uhlenbeck invited him to write an article with him in 1951. Uhlenbeck also stimulated him to approach mathematical research as an empirical study. He claims that all of his students and all 300 of his coauthors have benefitted from these early lessons. I can indeed testify to his skill as an editor, since Frank Harary had asked to have a copy of my words in his room here yesterday. When we first met, last evening, he handed me a corrected text, and excellent corrections they were too, some of them necessitated by the fact that another collection of articles edited by him had appeared since I first received his curriculum vitae.

At Michigan he taught regularly in undergraduate and graduate courses, and supervised a goodly number of graduate students for their doctorates, many of whom have gone on to make a name as graph theorists and to lead Computer Science Departments. Now he continues to teach graduate
students at New Mexico and junior faculty how to do good research, as well as learning from them how graph theory can be applied in different areas of computer science. Ahead he hopes to complete a series of books about the way graph theory works in many disciplines. When he is not working he is learning new languages, something he has found easy since he studied phonetics and an undergraduate, or enjoying dancing, both folk and ballroom. He also confesses to a fascination about putting information into alphabetical lists, and trying, for example, to find co-authors with names beginning with every letter: that list was completed with Quintas, but he has still not published in a journal beginning with the letter Y. I wonder whether anyone will be able to suggest one to him before this day is out? I somewhere he has a list of dances that he has learnt: a half-remembered name comes back to me from my dancing days of the Zelda Twostep; perhaps is may complete a list for him, if I haven't dreamt it.

Frank Harary has visited universities all over the world, and as I said at the beginning he has been here before; so his presence here today will not fill in a new letter on his lists. Nonetheless, his widely ranging, innovative and sparkling scholarship make him someone whom it is an honour to present to you for the. award of our degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


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