In Memory of John Brillhart

With a heavy heart, we bring you the news that West Coast Number Theory’s very first participant, John Brillhart, has died this year.

John passed away on May 21, 2022, at the age of 91.

A few years ago, we asked John to describe the origin of the meeting now known as the West Coast Number Theory conference. This is the message he sent in reply:

In January 1967, I got my PhD from Berkeley under D. H. Lehmer and then moved to Tucson, Arizona that fall to start teaching at the University of Arizona. That December at Christmas, I returned to Berkeley to visit my family, so the Lehmers and Robinsons decided to have a Christmas get-together in the form of an informal mini meeting with talks as well.

Dana Scott, Hansraj Gupta, and Don Knuth, who drove up from Stanford, came to the meeting. It was very pleasant. The following Christmas, when I again returned to Berkeley, the party/meeting was repeated; Emma Lehmer and Julia Robinson this time made cookies.

In August of 1969, there was a remarkable meeting at Oxford University on computational number theory to which a huge representation of number theorists came. There is a wonderful photograph of this meeting that is available on the internet. It was at this meeting that the Lehmers decided that they would make the Christmas meeting an annual affair, which they did the following Christmas. And thus, the meeting was founded, and though it has changed over the years, it has remained the same informal, pleasant venue that welcomes mathematicians, young and old, to come and talk about what they want.

John Brillhart is likely best known mathematically for his work on the continued fraction factoring algorithm with Mike Morrison, which is said to have ushered in the modern age of integer factoring methods.

John was also one of the original board members of the Number Theory Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports number theory events.

We will be honoring John Brillhart this year during the West Coast Number Theory conference Dec 15-19, 2022.

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