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Robert Simpson Woodward

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21 July 1849

Rochester, Michigan, USA

29 June 1924

Washington, D.C., USA

Robert Woodward attended school in Rochester before entering the University of Michigan in 1868 to study engineering. After graduating he spent 10 years (1872-1882) working for the U.S. Lake Survey where his work consisted of triangulation work on the great lakes. At this time he became interested in geology, in particular being interested in the shape of the Earth, the tides, the atmosphere and in astronomical studies.

In 1882 he was appointed to a post as assistant astronomer, then two years later, he was appointed as astronomer, geographer to the U.S. Geological Survey. From 1890 to 1893 he worked for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and developed triangulation methods of surveying which were less expensive and more accurate than those employed up to that time.

In 1893 Woodward was appointed professor of mechanics at Columbia University. From 1899 until 1904 he was professor of mechanics and mathematical physics at Columbia. He spent 12 years at Columbia during which :

... he was remarkably successful both as teacher and as administrator. He had a most attractive, genial, and lovable personality, and his advice was being so constantly sought by students and members of the faculty, that he found it very difficult to pursue mathematical work to which he had looked forward.

During his time in New York, Woodward was closely associated with the American Mathematical Society . He was vice-president of the Society from 1897 to 1898 and president from 1899 to 1900.

In 1904 Woodward left New York to take up the post of president of the newly formed Carnegie Institute of Washington which had been set up with ten million dollars gifted by Andrew Carnegie to promote study and research. Archibald writes:

At this critical period, his mature judgement and experience, his clarity of vision, common sense, enthusiasm, and geniality, led ... to the establishment on a firm foundation...

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland