Henry John Stephen Smith

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Henry John Stephen Smith (2 November 1826 Dublin, Ireland – 9 February 1883 Oxford, Oxfordshire, England [1]) was a mathematician remembered for his work in elementary divisors, quadratic forms, and Smith–Minkowski–Siegel mass formula in number theory. In matrix theory he is visible today in having his name on the Smith Normal Form of a matrix.



He was born in Dublin, Ireland, the fourth child of John Smith, a barrister, who died when Henry was two. His mother very soon afterward moved the family to England. He lived in several places in England as a boy, and had private tutors for his education. His mother did not send him to school but educated him herself until age 11, at which point she hired private tutors. At age 15 the boy was admitted to the exclusive Rugby boarding school in Warwickshire. (That was in 1841 when the renowned educationalist Thomas Arnold was the school's headmaster). At 19 he won an entrance scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. He graduated aged 23 in 1849 with high honours in both mathematics and classics. Smith was fluent in French having spent holidays in France, and he took classes in mathematics at the Sorbonne in Paris during the 1846-1847 academic year.

Academic career

Smith remained at Balliol as a mathematics tutor following his graduation in 1849 and was soon promoted to Fellow status. In 1861 he was promoted to the Savilian Chair of Geometry at Oxford. In 1873 he was made the beneficiary of a fellowship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and gave up teaching at Balliol.

On account of his ability as a man of affairs, Smith was in demand for academic administrative and committee work: He was Keeper of the Oxford University Museum; a Mathematical Examiner for the University of London; a member of a Royal Commission to review scientific education practice; a member of the commission to reform University of Oxford governance; chairman of the committee of scientists overseeing the Meteorological Office; twice president of the London Mathematical Society; etc.

Publications in number theory

An overview of Smith's mathematics contained in a lengthy obituary published in a professional journal in 1884 is reproduced at NumberTheory.Org [1]. The following is an extract from it.

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