Photo of Joseph B. Keller

Joseph B. Keller

  • National Medal of Science
  • Mathematics And Computer Science

For his outstanding contribution to the geometrical theory of diffraction. This is a major extension of geometrical optics which succeeds, after many centuries, in adding the physics of diffraction to the simple ray concepts of optics and of other wave motions.

Mathematician Joseph Keller has spent nearly 70 years studying ways to apply math to other scientific disciplines. His best-known work, the Geometrical Theory of Diffraction, is a mathematical theory used to solve problems in fields like physics and engineering.

Keller became interested in math early in life. He planned to major in mathematics in college until he took his first physics course. After discovering a love for that field as well, Keller graduated with degrees in both disciplines.

In the early 1940s, Keller taught engineering classes to men in the armed forces in an effort to aid the United States in World War II. When the program suddenly ended in 1944, Keller went on to work for the Columbia University Division of War Research until the end of the war.

One of Keller’s most interesting research projects involved, of all things, a woman’s ponytail. Three of Keller’s colleagues worked to study the physics of human hair. Keller assisted with his own independent study that focused specifically on the movement of the ponytails of joggers.

By Rachel Warren