James J. Stoker

James Johnston Stoker (March 2, 1905 October 19, 1992) was an American applied mathematician and engineer. He was director of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and is considered one of the founders of the institute, Courant and Friedrichs being the others.[1][2] Stoker is known for his work in differential geometry and theory of water waves. He is also the author of the now classic book Water Waves: The Mathematical Theory with Applications.

James J. Stoker
James Johnston Stoker

March 2, 1905
DiedOctober 19, 1992(1992-10-19) (aged 87)
Alma materFederal Institute of Technology Zürich, (Ph.D., 1936)
Known forTheory of water waves
AwardsTimoshenko Medal (1970)
Scientific career
FieldsApplied Mathematics
InstitutionsCourant Institute
Doctoral advisorHeinz Hopf
George Pólya
Doctoral studentsLouis Nirenberg
Jean Van Heijenoort
Eli Turkel


Hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Stoker started his career as a mining engineer.[3] In the 1930s, he went to Zürich to pursue a doctorate in mechanics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. One of the first courses he took there was by Heinz Hopf on geometry. Stoker was so impressed by the subject, and the teacher, that he switched his doctoral programme to differential geometry[2] He received his Ph.D. degree under the supervision of Hopf and George Pólya. Hopf later recommended Stoker to Richard Courant. In 1937 Stoker, along with Courant's former student Kurt O. Friedrichs, joined Courant in the Department of Mathematics at the New York University.[1] With Stoker's engineering background and Friedrichs' mastery in mathematics, the two were effectively collaborated on many applied problems such as plate theory.[3]

On Courant’s retirement in 1958 Stoker succeeded him as director and served until 1966. It was during Stoker’s period as director, the Institute acquired greater autonomy within the University framework. It became the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in 1965. Friedrichs succeeded Stoker as director in 1966.

Honors and awards


  • Differential Geometry, Wiley-Interscience (1989). ISBN 0-471-50403-3
  • Water Waves: The Mathematical Theory with Applications, Wiley-Interscience (1957).

Stoker's book on "Water Waves" is a significant work which summarises the state of knowledge in water wave theory in 1957. The focus is on linear wave theory.


  1. "Courant Institute: History". New York University. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
  2. "BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS: Courant". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
  3. "The Life of Kurt Otto Friedrichs". friedrichs.us. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
  4. Josiah Willard Gibbs Lectures
  5. Stoker, J. J. (1962). "Some observations on continuum mechanics with emphasis on elasticity". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 68 (4): 239–278. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1962-10760-5. MR 1566192.
  6. "Timoshenko Medal". ASME. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
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