Eduard Cech
It was in the spring of 1952 when, as a high school student, I first had the
opportunity to meet Eduard Cech in person. He gave the opening address to the
participants of the first Czechoslovak Mathematical Olympiad, a competition
Cech himself had established the previous year. At that time I had already been
influenced by his approach to mathematics for several years, as many of the
textbooks in use were written either directly by him or in collaboration with his
colleagues.
Eduard Cech was a professor of mathematics at Charles University in Prague
and also a member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. He was not only one
of the greatest Czech mathematicians, whose research in topology and differential
geometry had a lasting impact on the directions in those fields, but
he was also
a very influential teacher and mentor.
Eduard Cech was born on June 29, 1893 in Stracov in northeastern Bohemia,
about 100 miles from Prague. He studied at Charles University and received
his doctoral degree there in 1920. At that time his interest was mainly in the
study of local invariants of submanifolds of a projective space. This work and his
collaboration with Q. Fubini culminated in two books on projective differential
geometry. In the late twenties, his broad interests in mathematics were already
focused on problems in topology.
What struck me most profoundly about Cech when I was an undergraduate
at Charles University was his approach to mathematics, mathematical
thinki~g
and his unique way of reading a book in mathematics. For example, after he
read a theorem he would proceed to prove the statement himself before looking
up the proof in the text.
Mathematics with all of its aspects was Cech's life. He had a remarkable
capacity to focus on a chosen task. He had a great intuition, but was never
satisfied with any result without an exact proof. He was a perfectionist. In 1926
he published a book on projective differential geometry (in Czech), where he
attempted to present a rigorous treatment of differential geometry several years
before the appropriate tools where invented.
Apart from his strict approach to mathematics, Cech would occasionally re-
count stories from his many experiences. Once he mentioned a book of Lefschetz
he had read before his trip to Princeton for a year-long stay at the Institute in
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