Raoul Bott had a very simple explanation for what a good mathematician should be: “Someone who likes to get to the root of things,’’ the New York Times quoted him in an obituary after his 2005 death.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Bott came to the United States in the 1940s and carved out a decades-long career as an educator and mathematician with few equals. He taught for four decades at Harvard University, becoming a father figure to students and colleagues alike, and as a researcher contributed greatly to the fields of geometry and topology, the examination of spaces.

“He had a tremendous influence in the development of modern geometry and topology,” Clifford Taubes, the chairman of Harvard’s math department, told the Boston Globe. ”I would say that his contributions to this were as great as any one person.”

Though his undergraduate and master’s degrees were in engineering, Bott switched to mathematics as a doctoral student at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began teaching at Harvard in 1959.

Bott is noted for his periodicity theorem and the Borel-Bott-Weil theorem. He received numerous awards, including the Wolfe Prize and the Oswald Veblen Prize.

By Bob Warren