Sunday, December 13, 2009

Professor Paul Samuelson -- Rest in Peace and Reflections

The news just arrived that Professor Paul Samuelson, the Nobel Laureate, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, has passed away at the age of 94. This obituary highlights some of his immense achievements, from being the first winner of the Bates Medal to being the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Professor Samuelson was still writing and publishing in his 90s.

I remember meeting Professor Samuelson in person while I was a Visiting Scholar at the Sloan School at MIT. I had corresponded with him and had been sending him some of my papers since I was doing (and still am) work in spatial economics. His 1952 paper, "Spatial Price Equilibrium and Linear Programming," published in the American Economic Review, I have cited dozens of time. I especially appreciated his ability to use and apply the appropriate methodological techniques for model formulation and analysis in economics. Also, that paper even identified the beautiful bipartite network structure of this classical problem.

One of my favorite reminiscences of Paul Samuelson was riding in the elevator with him at the Sloan School and we would also meet up in either the first floor snack shop or on the top floor dining room at which I (and those who visited me) enjoyed both the buffet lunch and the great views of the Charles River. Professor Samuelson was always well-dressed with one of his bowties on and although he was a giant in scholarship, height-wise, I could look him in the eyes. One day, as we were riding the elevator together he said to me, "Anna, have you proven any good theorems lately?" and that statement still resides with me.

Coincidentally (and life is filled with coincidences, it seems), yesterday, I was in Cambridge, in Harvard Square (Harvard is where Samuelson received his PhD and his nephew is the former President of Harvard, Larry Summers). A great friend of mine, Professor Kei May Lau, was visiting from Hong Kong. She had given, the day before, a seminar at MIT and I could not miss up the opportunity to see her and to reminisce. Little did we know then that we would be hearing about Harvard and MIT again today through the death of Paul Samuelson.

Above I have included a photo taken yesterday in Cambridge, which, somehow to me, captures something special. I include it as a small memorial to Professor Paul Samuelson, to his brilliance, and to his legacy.