History of Scientific Women

Main achievements: First to construct a ZFC Dowker space. Proved the first Morita conjecture. Proved the Nikiel's conjecture.

Mary Ellen Rudin was an American mathematician known for her work in set-theoretic topology. Mary Ellen (Estill) Rudin was born in Hillsboro, Texas to Joe Jefferson Estill and Irene (Shook) Estill. Her mother Irene was an English teacher before marriage, and her father Joe was a civil engineer. The family moved with her father's work, but spent a great deal of Mary Ellen's childhood around Leakey, Texas. She had one sibling, a younger brother. Both of Rudin's maternal grandmothers had attended Mary Sharp College near their hometown of Winchester, Tennessee. Rudin remarks on this legacy and how much her family valued education in an interview.

She attended the University of Texas, completing her B.A. in 1944 after just three years before moving into the graduate program in mathematics under Robert Lee Moore. Her graduate thesis presented a counterexample to one of "Moore's axioms". She completed her Ph.D. in 1949. During her time as an undergraduate, she was a member of the Phi Mu Women's Fraternity, and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa society. In 1953, she married mathematician Walter Rudin, whom she met while teaching at Duke University. They had four children.

At the beginning of her career, Rudin taught at Duke University and the University of Rochester. She took a position as Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin in 1959, and was appointed Professor of Mathematics in 1971. After her retirement in 1991, she continued to serve as a Professor Emerita. She was the first Grace Chisholm Young Professor of Mathematics and also held the Hilidale Professorship.

She served as vice-president of the American Mathematical Society, 1980–1981. In 1984 she was selected to be a Noether Lecturer. She was an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1995). In 2012 she became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.

Rudin is best known in topology for her constructions of counterexamples to well-known conjectures. Most famously, she was the first to construct a ZFC Dowker space, thus disproving a conjecture of Dowker's that had stood, and helped drive topological research, for more than twenty years. Her example fuelled the search for "small" ZFC Dowker spaces. She also proved the first Morita conjecture and a restricted version of the second. Her last major result was a proof of Nikiel's conjecture.

"Reading the articles of Mary Ellen Rudin, studying them until there is no mystery takes hours and hours; but those hours are rewarded, the student obtains power to which few have access. They are not hard to read, they are just hard mathematics, that's all." (Steve Watson)

Source: Wikipedia