Rice mourns loss of mathematician Tim Cochran

Rice mourns loss of mathematician Tim Cochran

The Rice community is mourning the unexpected loss of award-winning mathematician Tim Cochran, 59, who died Dec. 16.

Cochran, who joined Rice’s faculty in 1990, was a beloved and highly successful researcher, teacher and mentor, said Mathematics Department Chair David Damanik.

Tim Cochran

“Tim will be missed dearly,” Damanik said. “He was a driving force in our graduate program and helped shape it in many ways. He was also deeply involved in our undergraduate program and in mentoring numerous early career scientists, primarily through our G.C. Evans Instructor program.

“Our hearts go out at this difficult time to his family, friends, students and mentees,” Damanik said.

In recognition of Cochran’s demonstrated commitment to graduate education, he received the 2014 Rice Graduate Student Association’s Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award. Sixteen students completed their doctoral degrees under his supervision, and he also served as a teaching and career mentor to faculty and as an undergraduate adviser and O-week adviser.

Cochran earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977 and his doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley in 1982. He served on the faculty at both UC-Berkeley and Northwestern University before joining Rice as an associate professor. He was promoted to professor in 1998.

Cochran was also a noted researcher, whose interests included topology, knot theory, three- and four-dimensional manifolds and group theory. He became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society in 2014 and was in the midst of a yearlong sabbatical supported by a prestigious Simons Foundation research fellowship.

Cochran spoke about his research with the Rice News in July, shortly after winning the Simons fellowship.

“Topology is like geometry, the study of the shapes of things,” he said. “That’s very important in many applications. We don’t do applied math, but a lot of people do study knotted DNA and linking of DNA strands in order to derive information about the nature of the mechanisms going on in replication.”

A memorial service to celebrate Cochran’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 18 at Rice Memorial Chapel. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Association for Women in Mathematics.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.