I just heard the sad news that Igor Krichever passed away this morning at the age of 72. Igor was a great scholar, a wise man, and a wonderful human being. He will be sorely missed by his colleagues at Columbia and elsewhere. My condolences to his family, which includes another first-rate mathematician, his son-in-law Sasha Braverman. During the past year Igor had been suffering from a progressive neuro-degenerative disease. Fortunately he was still in good enough health to fully participate in and enjoy his 70th birthday conference, which took place at Columbia in early October.
In recent years Igor had been spending only one semester each year at Columbia, much of the rest of the time was in Moscow, where he was director of Skoltech’s Center for Advanced Studies. He came to Columbia in the mid-90s, with his hiring the beginning of a period of successful expansion and improvement in the math department. He was a gentle and friendly person, and it was always a pleasure to have a chance to talk to him about one topic or another. When he became chair of the department I remember thinking that it seemed unlikely that someone as scholarly and laid-back as him, with a somewhat typical Russian mathematician’s other-worldliness, could deal well with the challenges of the university bureaucracy. I was very, very wrong, as it became clear that he was extremely wise in the ways of the world and a great department chair. I guess that after growing up with Soviet bureaucracy, dealing with the Columbia version was child’s play.
Igor was a very distinguished mathematician, one of the leading figures working at the intersection of integrable systems and algebraic geometry. For more about his scientific work, there’s a biographical notice written by some of his colleagues at the time of his 60th birthday (which was also celebrated at Columbia with a conference, see here).