The Lanczos Tapes

Charcoal sketch of Cornelius Lanczos by John Chirnside of UMIST.

Cornelius Lanczos (1893-1974) gave lectures at UMIST (a predecessor institution of The University of Manchester) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while he was a Professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Study. In 1972, UMIST Audio Visual Services made three video recordings lasting almost three hours of Lanczos talking about mathematics, his life, and Einstein. In two of the tapes he is speaking in a group discussion, while in the other he speaks eloquently about his life for 50 minutes, directly to camera and apparently without notes. The topics he covers include his experiences as

  • student of Eötvös and Fejér in Hungary,
  • theoretical physicist,
  • assistant of Albert Einstein in Germany,
  • numerical analyst and inventor of the tau method,
  • (re-)discoverer of the fast Fourier transform and singular value decomposition,
  • inventor of the Lanczos algorithm while working at the US National Bureau of Standards, and
  • head of the Theoretical Physics Department at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Study.

The charcoal sketch above hung for many years in the office of the administrator of the mathematics department at UMIST and now has pride of place on the wall in my office in the Alan Turing Building.

My colleague Stefan Güttel has produced a version of the videos with bookmarks linking to the main topics of discussion. We are pleased to make the videos available online on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of Cornelius Lanczos’s birth (February 2, 1893).

Cornelius Lanczos