Copson, Edward Thomas

(1901-1980), mathematician

by Ian N. Sneddon

© Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved

Copson, Edward Thomas (1901-1980), mathematician, was born on 21 August 1901 at 46 Northumberland Road, Coventry, the elder son of Thomas Charles Copson, motor engineer, and Emily Read. He was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry, and St John's College, Oxford, where he gained a double first in mathematics and graduated BA in 1922. He was a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 1922-30 (taking a DSc degree there in 1928), and at the University of St Andrews in 1930-34. For one year (1934-5) he was assistant professor at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, but he returned to Scotland a year later on his appointment as professor of mathematics at University College, Dundee. In 1950 he was appointed to the regius chair of mathematics in the University of St Andrews, and apart from serving as a research fellow at Harvard in 1957-8, remained there until his retirement in 1969. In the period 1954-7 he was master of St Salvator's College, St Andrews.

In his many years in Scotland, Copson played an active role in the Edinburgh Mathematical Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In the former he served twice as president (1930-31 and 1954-5) and was elected an honorary member in 1979. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at an early age and was a member of council for several years and its vice-president in 1950-53. He was awarded the Keith prize by the society in 1941.

On 11 July 1931 Copson married Beatrice Mary, the elder daughter of Sir Edmund Whittaker. They had two daughters. Copson made substantial contributions to both classical mathematical analysis and applied mathematics. His analysis papers are devoted mainly to the theory of partial differential equations, but there are also papers on the theory of sequences, series, inequalities, special functions, Fourier theory (including dual integral equations), Marcel Riesz's multiple integrals of fractional order, and harmonic Riemann spaces. The range of his papers in applied mathematics is equally impressive, embracing gas dynamics, sound waves of finite amplitude, electrostatics, and diffraction problems. Although his research papers were well received, his international reputation rests mainly on his An Introduction to the Theory of Functions of a Complex Variable (1935), which remained a standard work for over half a century, and on The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle (1939), written with Bevin B. Baker, the second edition of which, in 1950, was the first account in English of the modern theory of hyperbolic partial differential equations. He contributed two volumes to the Cambridge Tracts in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics: Asymptotic Expansions (1965) and Metric Spaces (1972). His final major publication was Partial Differential Equations (1975). His library of mathematical books is now housed in the Mathematical Institute of the University of St Andrews.

Copson died on 16 February 1980 in King's Cross Hospital, Dundee, after a short illness, and was cremated at Dundee crematorium on 21 February. He was survived by his wife.


private information (2004)
personal knowledge (2004)
Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society, 13 (1981), 566-7
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m. cert.

U. St Andr., Mathematical Institute

Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved


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