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Codebreaker and Math Educator Peter J. Hilton Dies at 87

November 15, 2010 

Peter Hilton, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Binghamton University, died November 6, 2010, at age 87.

A codebreaker at Bletchley Park during World War II, Hilton wrote numerous books and research articles, mainly in the areas of algebraic topology, homological algebra, and group theory. He had a long-standing interest in mathematics education, and was chairman of the U.S. Commission on Mathematical Instruction and chairman of the National Research Council Committee on Applied Mathematics Training.

Born in London, Hilton attended Oxford University. Because of his mathematical ability and knowledge of German, he was recruited from Oxford at age 18 to work with Alan Turing and other codebreakers on the Enigma and the Fish codes.

Hilton obtained his doctorate from Oxford and went on to hold academic positions at Cambridge and Manchester Universities, and a Chair at the University of Birmingham.  In 1962, he moved to the U.S. where he was Professor of Mathematics, first at Cornell, then at the University of Washington and the Battelle Institute. He held the Louis D. Beaumont Chair at Case Western Reserve University for a number of years. In 1982 he became Distinguished Professor at Binghamton University, retiring in 1995.

After the British Official Secrets Act was lifted in the 1980s, Hilton lectured about the years at Bletchley Park all over the world. He gave several such lectures at Binghamton University.

Hilton was profiled in Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews, edited by Donald Albers, MAA Books Editorial Director, and former MAA President Gerald L. Alexanderson.

"What a great loss!,” wrote Albers in a recent email. “One of the giants has fallen.”

A celebration of Peter's life will take place at 2:00 p.m., on Saturday, December 4, 2010, at the Unitarian Church on Riverside Drive, Binghamton, New York. 

For more on Hilton:
“Distinguished Professor Emeritus Peter Hilton dies,” Inside Binghamton University (November 10, 2010)
“Professor Peter Hilton,” The Telegraph (November 10, 2010)
Start Date: 
Monday, November 15, 2010