31 January 2018

Gifted mathematician as well as an inspiring lecturer

Professor Emeritus Frederik van der Blij passed away

Professor Emeritus in Mathematics and former Utrecht University Rector Magnificus, Frederik (Fred) van der Blij (1923), passed away on 27 January. Van der Blij was a gifted mathematician as well as an inspiring lecturer and a skilled administrator. As Scientific Director of the IOWO and the OW&OC, predecessors of the current Freudenthal Institute, he made an important contribution to the teachnig of arithmetics and mathematics  in the Netherlands.

Prof. Frederik van der Blij

Van der Blij worked at Utrecht University from 1953 to his retirement in 1988. In the academic year 1970-1971, he also served as Rector Magnificus of the university. In 1975, he succeeded Prof. Hans Freudenthal as Scientific Director of the Instituut voor de Ontwikkeling van het Wiskunde Onderwijs (Institute for the Development of Mathematics Education, IOWO). Van der Blij was also an honorary member of the Koninklijk Wiskundig Genootschap [Royal Mathematical Association] and the Nederlandse Vereniging van Wiskundeleraren [Dutch association of highschool mathematics teachers].

Broad interests

Van der Blij had a broad range of interests, and published on number theory, quadratic forms, the history of mathematics, mathematics education and the connections between art and mathematics. He was also a co-founder and the first President of the Ars et Mathesis Foundation for the connection between mathematics and art. 

Van der Blij effect

Many of his former students are familiar with the ‘Van der Blij effect’. At the end of his lectures, Van der Blij gave such a clear summary that his students thought they understood everything completely. But once at home, they realised that considerable more study was needed to truly understand the material.

Seven professors

Of the 16 PhD candidates that he supervised in his career, no less than seven became full professors themselves. These included the current Utrecht University professors Jan Hogendijk and Pauline Hogeweg, but also retired professors  Jan van Maanen, Jan de Lange and Hans Mars, as well as Marius van der Put (professor at the University of Groningen) and Jack van Lint, former Professor and Rector Magnificus of the Technical University of Eindhoven.

Mathematics teaching

Frederik van der Blij

Van der Blij started his studies in mathematics at Leiden University of Leiden, and continued at Utrecht University. He worked as a highschool mathematics teacher for some time before earning his PhD in Leiden in 1947. He then becake one of the first mathematics researchers at the Mathematisch Centrum in Amsterdam, now the CWI. He was appointed at Utrecht University in 1953, where he quickly became a full professor.

Read more (in Dutch)

To mark his 80th birthday, the Nieuw Archief voor Wiskunde published a detailed and fascinating interview with Van der Blij about his life, work, and vision of mathematics (Nieuw Archief voor Wiskunde 5/5. nr. 2, juni 2005, pp. 119-124).