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Kenneth Cooke, 82; world-renowned mathematician

September 08, 2007|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Kenneth L. Cooke, an esteemed mathematician and professor emeritus at Pomona College, renowned for his work in mathematical biology, particularly his study of epidemics including AIDS, died Aug. 25 of a brain tumor at his home in Claremont, the university announced. He was 82.

A prolific writer, Cooke penned 10 textbooks and nearly 100 scientific articles. He also was highly respected as a founder of a field known as delay differential equations.

The fact that Cooke spent his career at a small liberal arts college was not lost on his colleagues.

To teach math at a liberal arts college to students with widely varying interests in math can be tough, said his colleague Sandy Grabiner, a professor of mathematics at Pomona College. To become an internationally renowned research mathematician on any campus is hard as well.

"To do both is amazing," Grabiner said. "And he combined this with a kind of good sense [and] modesty. . . . You wouldn't know how good he was unless you knew how good he was, because he wasn't going to tell you."

Born Aug. 13, 1925, in Kansas City, Mo., Cooke was not an early math devotee. But by the time he enrolled at Pomona College in 1942 his interest had grown. World War II interrupted Cooke's schooling; he served in the Navy as a radar and radio technician for two years, then returned to Pomona and graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1947.

At Stanford University, Cooke earned master's and doctorate degrees in mathematics. He taught at Washington State University for seven years, then joined the faculty of Pomona College in 1957.

Cooke's interests were expansive; mathematical biology was just one of the areas in which he distinguished himself.

In mathematical biology, researchers use math to help predict biological phenomena. In the case of epidemics, the goal is to determine the crucial parameters that will cause an epidemic to grow or die out, Grabiner said.

Cooke is survived by his wife, Margaret Cooke of Claremont; daughters Catherine Sarah Cooke of Portland, Ore., and Susan Elizabeth Cooke of Beaverton, Ore.; son Robert Kenneth Cooke of Stillwater, Minn; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. today in Kingman Chapel at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 W. Harrison Ave., Claremont.


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