Publication details

Václav Hlavatý: a mathematical career that started in Delft

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Year of publication 2015
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Education

Description One of the biggest events in the history of physics in the 20th century was undoubtedly Einstein’s relativity theory. Mathematicians also had their own specific community in this, formed Ricci, Levi-Civita, Schouten, and Struik. Although it can be claimed that Weyl, Klein, Levi-Civita, and Ricci-Curbastro were more important and/or influential, it was clearly Schouten who inspired the Czech mathematician Václav Hlavatý to work on this topic. Václav Hlavatý studied mathematics at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in Prague and descriptive geometry at the Czech Technical University. He continued working in geometry, but the turning point in his career is marked by his one-semester stay with Jan Arnoldus Schouten in Delft in 1924. After this stay, Hlavatý submitted his habilitation (1 October 1924) and became deeply interconnected with the community of European differential geometers. Hlavatý’s career is closely tied with the search of geometry for Einstein’s unified field theory. In the period between the wars, Hlavatý was an active teacher and researcher in mathematics: together with J. A. Schouten, he gave lectures in Moscow; in 1927, he was on a research visit in Rome simultaneously with Schouten’s pupil Dirk Jan Struik; and he also gave talks in Bucharest and Cracow. Scientific contacts between Delft and Prague will be embedded in a broader context, as there had been very fruitful relations of Czech physicists with H.A. Lorentz and P. Ehrenfest. In October 1912, Ehrenfest substituted Lorentz in Leiden. His arrival to Leiden was influential on the community of mathematicians and physicists in Leiden (Alberts 1994). In the background of their daily work, there were boiling big questions on the role of mathematics in cosmology. These questions were also discussed in Prague. In my talk, I would like to use the case of Václav Hlavatý to illustrate the importance and impact of international contacts of Czechoslovak mathematicians in the interbellum.
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