Donald Saari

I grew up in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan. To see where, find the part of Michigan that is above Wisconsin; my hometown is on the thumb sticking into the frigid waters of Lake Superior. By its location, you can appreciate why in the midst of winter, where we could have 400 inches of snowfall, people would bundle up and drive south to warm up in, say, Green Bay or Minneapolis. Reflecting the advantages of the region, much of my youth was spent skiing, camping, scouting, sailing, acting in class plays, involved in athletics, exploring abandoned mines, etc.; i.e., a great time! As an undergraduate at Michigan Technological University I had a triple major — social life, campus politics, and athletics, but with a strong minor in mathematics. While I always had high grades, it took graduate school (Purdue) to totally turn me on to academics — so much so that I would fall in love with whatever mathematics topic I happened to be studying at the moment; well, until the next term when I discovered still another topic! For me, being an academic was, and is, like being a kid in a candy store. I finally settled on dynamics where my thesis analyzed the collision orbits of the Newtonian N-body problem. The best thing I ever did in life happened in graduate school: I met, fell in love, and married Lillian (Kalinen), another Finnish-American. We have two married daughters, Katri and Anneli, and five grandchildren.

After graduate school, Lillian and I moved to New Haven for my postdoctoral position in the Yale University Astronomy Department.  A year later I joined the Mathematics Department at Northwestern University where I served as chair of the department and became the first Pancoe Professor of Mathematics. Much of my early research (that continues) centered on dynamical issues such as the evolution of the universe.  This raises a question: how does a “physical scientist” become a “social scientist?”  In my case, by teaching and chatting with bright graduate and undergraduate students from economics where I discovered and became fascinated by the challenges of the social sciences—an interest that resulted in me also becoming a member of the Dept. of Economics, the Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Engineering Science, and the Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics. Motivated by many conversations with students and faculty from the social sciences, my research shifted to emphasize dynamics of the social sciences, such as the “Invisible Hand” story, and to modify dynamical concepts to address concerns coming from the social and behavioral sciences.  I reported on some of my new approaches at a NRC conference where I met Duncan Luce. A couple of years later, Duncan invited me to spend a term at UCI where he started recruiting me.  Although we had no intensions of ever leaving Northwestern, I became intrigued and attracted by the innovative, high-powered research being done here at the IMBS, the School of Social Sciences , and by many faculty including Duncan Luce, Bernie Grofman, Louis Narens, Kim Romney, and Brian Skyrms.  So, after three decades at NU, in July 2000, Lillian and I moved to UCI where I am a Distinguished Professor of Economics and Mathematics as well as the Director of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.  Duncan Luce is about 99.9% responsible for us being here, and we are delighted! 

As for other activities, I am the Chief Editor of the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society and on editorial boards of several journals on analysis, dynamics, economics, and decision analysis. Also I am a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the AAAS, a Guggenheim Fellow, the past chair of the US National Committee of Mathematics, chair of the US delegation to the 2002 general assembly of the International Mathematical Union, and a member of several NRC committees including Math Science Education Board. My honorary doctorates come from Purdue, Université de Caen, and Michigan Technological University . I am particularly proud of receiving over 10 awards for teaching, being honored (twice at Northwestern) by students with a “Most Influential Professor” award, and, for over 20 years, serving as the “Santa Claus” for our departmental Christmas parties.