"Rocket J. Squirrel" was how the Caltech undergraduates caricatured Jon Mathews, physics professor there in the 70's --- crew-cut gray hair, rapid-fire speech, clever problem-solver, but far from a stellar attraction for the department ... no Nobel prizes in the offing, no outstanding insights that changed the face of science. Mathematical Methods of Physics was his main book, co-authored with Bob Walker, based on a course Richard Feynman taught at Cornell. "I'm going to show you a lot of tricks," Mathews said once when lecturing, "so that you can be a tricky person!" They were good tricks, too, fundamental and deep.
But though he vanished without a trace during a sailing expedition around the world, and though he left behind no major body of work, Jon Mathews still has a monument: the enthusiasm and creative fire that he gave his students, and the patterns of thought that he showed them. That invisible influence, incredibly diffuse, is his gift to us.
Thank you, Jon.
Sunday, April 25, 1999 at 20:42:19 (EDT) = Datetag19990425