By Abhay Ashtekar

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But Minkowski was never to hear Hilbert's proof of Waring's theorem. A few days after his return, he suffered a severe attack of appendicitis, was rushed to the hospital and operated upon. He died on January 12, 1909, at the age of forty-five. (Later in the same year there was another premature death in the Gottingen mathematical circle. Walther Ritz, whose name is attached to the spectral formula and the combination principle of spectral lines, was a Privatdozent for theoretical physics. He had been told by his doctors that he was perhaps fatally ill with tuberculosis and should be in a sanatorium under constant medical care.

The other mathematics students seemed one-sided in their interests, and he saw no potential friends among them. He attended two courses given by Hilbert and one by Minkowski, and found both of the famous mathematicians very bad lecturers. He also took courses in physics and philosophy. But none of the courses interested him very much--only the preparation of his seminar report. He went for long walks by himself in the surrounding hills and decided that in spite of the many charming views he felt "closed in" by the landscape of Gottingen, so different from the plain that surrounded Breslau.

Hermann Minkowski, his closest friend since their university days in Konigsberg, had made his reputation in a theory of his own creation called the geometry of numbers. When, however, he had joined Hilbert on the faculty in Gottingen, he had suggested that they undertake a study of classical physics for their own education. A result had been the joint seminar on mathematical physics. Before the semester began, Courant approached Hilbert about being accepted as a member of the seminar and found him agreeable.