Remembering Professor Tamás Lengyel

Photo by Marc Campos

A internationally renowned scholar in the math community, a mathematical constant and a sequence of numbers were named in his honor

Tamás Lengyel, professor of mathematics, died February 6, 2024. He was 73. Tamás graduated from the prestigious Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary, in 1974 and earned his Ph.D. in mathematics, with a specific focus on probability theory and statistics, from Eötvös in 1979. Prior to moving to the United States in 1986, he worked as a research associate, a research fellow, and a head of department for the Computer and Automation Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Tamás joined the College as an associate professor of mathematics in 1990, earning tenure in 1994; he was promoted to full professor in 2002. At Oxy, he taught applied and theoretical courses in probability theory, statistics, and operations research, as well as lower-division courses in calculus, statistics, and problem solving. He also developed new courses in data analysis and creative problem solving, the latter of which was particularly beloved among math majors. In addition to teaching, he coached Oxy’s Putnam team, worked closely with students in the summer research program, served as chair of the Mathematics Department from 1994 to 1997, and served as the liaison for the College’s computer science/engineering 3/2 program with Caltech and Columbia University from 1991 to 2017.

Tamás' scholarly contributions were formidable and made a significant impact on the international mathematical community. His research interests included multivariate statistical methods, combinatorial game theory, and combinatorial problems in probability and statistics. He published more than 80 papers, book chapters, and research studies on these topics, in international academic journals such as Fibonacci Quarterly, the Journal of Difference Equations and Applications, Discrete Mathematics, and many others. He served on the editorial board for Advances and Applications in Statistics from 2003 to 2013. A mathematical constant, Lengyel's Constant, and a sequence of numbers, the Lengyel numbers, were named in his honor.

Professor of Mathematics Erik Sundberg ’97, who has taught at the College since 2006, remembered his former teacher and longtime colleague in an interview with The Occidental newspaper, “He truly enjoyed math and was always doing it,” Sundberg said. “If you stopped by Fowler in the evening hours you’d find Tamás still working in his office, either proving some new result or helping the students from his classes.”

Caroline Agostini ’25, an economics major from Elgin, S.C., took Statistical Data Analysis with Tamás as a first-year. “He wanted everyone to really understand and love the material and apply it to real world scenarios. He also had a lot of quirks"—including his love for Haribo Goldbears—“which were really fun,” she told the newspaper.