Photo of Cathleen Synge Morawetz

Cathleen Synge Morawetz

  • National Medal of Science
  • Mathematics And Computer Science

For her many pioneering contributions to the theory of partial differential equations and wave propagation, that resulted in applications in aerodynamics, acoustics, and optics. Her research accomplishments are matched by her leadership and inspiration, judgment and vision, and knowledge and generosity to colleagues and collaborators.

Cathleen Synge Morawetz knows the right equation to achieving success. Morawetz, the first woman to receive the National Medal of Science, is best known for her contributions to the theory of partial differential equations and wave propagations that ultimately led to advanced applications in aerodynamics, acoustics and optics.

Through her research at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, where she later served as the first woman director, Morawetz found that geometrical optics could be used to determine the acoustic and electromagnetic fields scattered by objects. She also learned that this approximation became more accurate as the wave-length approached zero. Her findings led to more practical use of this approach and to new studies in aviation design that minimized the effect of shock waves on aircrafts.

Morawetz, who received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, her master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her doctorate from NYU, was also recognized for her distinguished leadership.

She was named Outstanding Woman Scientist by the Association of Women in Science, served as president of the Association for Women in Mathematics and and acted as a Guggenheim Fellow, among other accomplishments.

Morawetz did all of this—and more—while raising four children, proving to the world that a woman could successfully balance her energies between her research and her family. For this, she was honored by the National Organization for Women.

By Sydni Dunn