Agnes Scott College

Olga Alexandrovna Ladyzhenskaya

Ladyzhenskaya Photo

March 7, 1922 - January 12, 2004

Received her Ph.D. at the Leningrad State University in 1949 and her Doctorate in the Mathematics-Physical Sciences in 1953 at Moscow State University. Worked in the general areas of linear, quasilinear, and nonlinear partial (and some ordinary) differential equations of elliptic, parabolic, and hyperbolic types, with some theoretical applications to Navier-Stokes flow. Professor of Mathematics at the Physics Department at St. Petersburg University and Head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at the St. Petersburg branch of the Steklov Mathematical Institute of the Russian Academy of Science.

Olga Ladyzhenskaya was a member of the St. Petersburg Mathematical Society since 1959. She was its vice-president for many years and its president between 1990 and 1998.

The AWM/MSRI workshop to celebrate the careers of Olga Ladyzhenskaya and Olga Oleinik was held May 18-20, 2006, in Berkeley, California. Further information can be found at the MSRI website. In particular, this site contains links to videos from the workshop including a talk by Cathleen Morawetz on "Early memories of Olga Ladyzhenskaya and Olga Oleinik" and other talks about the "two Olgas" and their mathematical contributions.

In an email announcing the death of Ladyzhenskaya, Professor Max Gunzburger from Florida State University wrote:

"Although a giant of mathematics, she is not known as a numerical analyst; however, she did provide the first (and still one of the few) rigorous proofs of the convergence of a finite difference method for the Navier-Stokes equations. More important, her seminal work on partial differential equations had tremendous and lasting influence on those who specialize in numerical PDEs. For example, she is the "L" of the celebrated LBB condition that arises in mixed finite element discretizations of the Stokes and Navier-Stokes equations.

Olga Ladyzhenskaya overcame great odds of a personal and political nature to become one of the most influential mathematicians of her generation. This gentlewoman will be very much missed by her family and friends and by the scientific community."

The National Committee of Mathematicians of Russia and St Petersburg State University have established a prize in honor of Ladyzhenskaya to be awarded for the first time at a special event dedicated to the Ladyzhenskaya Centennial marking her 100th birthday during the International Congress of Mathematicians in 2022.. The Ladyzhenskaya medal in mathematical physics will be awarded every four years to recognize revolutionary results in or with applications to mathematical physics. This includes any existing or future area of research in mathematical physics and neighboring fields of mathematics.

On May 13, 2002, Professor Ladyzhenskaya was awarded the degree of "Doctor honoris causa" by the University of Bonn. The following excerpts are from the text of the Laudatio in honor of Professor Ladyzhenskaya read at this occasion. They are reprinted, with permission, from the article "Olga Ladyzhenskaya: A Life-Long Devotion to Mathematics," by Professor Michael Struwe which appeared in Geometric Analysis and Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations, Stefan Hildebrandt and Hermann Karcher, Editors, Springer-Verlag (copyright 2003), pages 1-10. The full article may be accessed at Professor Struwe's website under the Publications section.

Olga Alexandrovna Ladyzhenskaya was born on March 7, 1922, in the town of Kologrive, in a family of old Russian nobility. Her father Alexander Ivanovich Ladyzhenski was teaching mathematics at the local school. He transmitted his passion for mathematics not only to his students but also to his daughter Olga Alexandrovna who from early childhood showed a strong talent for logical thinking. In 1939 she was admitted to the Leningrad Teachers' Training College and from 1941 to 1943 she taught mathematics to the senior classes at Kologrive Secondary School. From 1943 to 1947 she then studied mathematics at the University of Moscow. Among her teachers in Moscow were Gel'fand, Petrovskii, Sobolev, and Tikhonov. In 1947 she graduated with the highest distinction; her thesis advisor was I.G.Petrovskii. In the same year she married Andrei Alexevich Kiselev, also a mathematician who taught history of mathematics at Leningrad State University, and returned to Leningrad/St. Petersburg to continue her studies at the University of Leningrad. Here she also was influenced by Smirnov. She completed her Ph. D. in 1949 with a thesis supervised by Sobolev, and, in the spring of 1953, at Moscow State University, she handed in her thesis for the D. Sc. degree, comparable to the German "Habilitation". Finally, in 1954 she was appointed Professor at Leningrad University and in 1961 she became director of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Steklov Institute (Leningrad branch) where her mathematical successes soon brought her wide recognition, both in the Soviet Union and abroad.

This is what we can read about Professor Ladyzhenskaya's youth and the beginning of her mathematical career in the account of A. D. Alexandrov, A. P. Oskolkov, N. N. Ural'tseva, and L. D. Faddeev [1] on the occasion of her 60th birthday. We get the impression of an uneventful youth passed in rural tranquility and economic security in the family of a state official and a mathematical gift whose full potential became apparent only rather late.

However, the truth is very far from this, and it could only be told after communist rule of Russia had ended. Those were difficult days for a descendent of the Russian noble class. In 1937, Professor Ladyzhenskaya's father was arrested by Stalin's men. In fact, as Alexander Solschenizyn recalls in his epic account of the "Gulag", Alexander I. Ladyzhenski had been warned by a peasant that his name was in "their" lists; but he stayed, he would not leave the students who depended on him; see [30], p. 23-24. In a show trial he was convicted as an "enemy of the Russian people" and sentenced to death. Olga Alexandrovna Ladyzhenskaya was lucky enough to be allowed to finish high school–unlike her two older sisters who were expelled. In 1939 she passed the entrance examinations to study at prestigious Leningrad University, at that time the best University in the Soviet Union; however, as the daughter of a "class enemy" she was not admitted. When she finally was allowed to enter Moscow University in 1943, it was only because the mother of one of her students was able to use personal contacts in her favor. Although she had completed her second thesis as early as 1951 she was not allowed to defend her thesis before 1953, after Stalin's death.

There is only one explanation why in spite of such adversity Olga Alexandrovna Ladyzhenskaya was able to rise to the top of renowned Steklov Institute and to become the uncontested head of the Leningrad school of mathematics, and this is her work.

Professor Ladyzhenskaya has written more than 250 mathematical papers; her work covers the whole spectrum of partial differential equations, ranging from hyperbolic equations to differential equations generated by symmetric functions of the eigenvalues of the Hessian, and discussing topics ranging from uniqueness to convergence of Fourier series or finite-difference approximation of solutions. She developed the functional analytic treatment of nonlinear stationary problems by Leray-Schauder degree theory and pioneered the theory of attractors for dissipative equations. She is author of three monographs that have greatly influenced the development of the field of partial differential equations throughout the second half of the last century.

With her impressive mathematical achievements, helped by her cultured and charming personality, Professor Ladyzhenskaya has attracted a large number of excellent students to work with her at the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics of Steklov Institute and at Leningrad University, among them Solonnikov, Golovkin, Rivkind, Ivanov; her Ph. D. students include L. Faddev and N. Ural'tseva. Much of this activity is documented in Ladyzhenskaya's account [17]. Professor Ladyzhenskaya already was famous for her work worldwide when, in 1981, she was elected member of the Russian Academy of Science. She also is foreign member of numerous academies abroad, among them the Leopoldina, the oldest German academy. Until 1998 she was President of the Mathematical Society of St. Petersburg, thus a successor of Leonhard Euler in this office.

The year 1989 brought about the end of communist rule and a turn towards democracy and market economy in Russia. Russian mathematicians were allowed to travel more freely; some of them were able to visit Western countries for the first time. At the same time their economic situation deteriorated at the rate with which their salaries decreased in value in comparison with market prizes for standard goods. Thus we can easily sympathize with those scientists, among them many leading Russian mathematicians, who accepted offers from abroad and left their country to find more favorable working conditions and a secure future for their families elsewhere. Professor Ladyzhenskaya, however, stayed and helped steer the Steklov Institute through these years of economic change and foster the careers of her coworkers there, thus remaining faithful to the legacy of her father. She only retired officially from her position at Steklov Institute in 2000. To a large extent she uses her new freedom to travel to make contacts for the benefit of her students and for the better of the institution which has been her scientific home for over 50 years. The University of Bonn stands out prominently among the institutions with whom she has built lasting relations which have proved highly valuable for both sides.

[1] A. D.Aleksandrov, A.P.Oskolkov, N. N. Ural'tseva, L.D.Faddeev: "Ol'ga Aleksandrovna Ladyzhenskaya (on her sixtieth birthday)", Russian Math. Surv. 38.5 (1983), 171-181.
[17] O. A. Ladyzhenskaya, "On some trends of investigations carried out in the laboratory of mathematical physics at the Leningrad branch of the mathematical institute," Proc. Steklov Inst. Math. 2 (1988), 229-258.
[30] A. Solschenizyn: Der Archipel Gulag, Scherz-Verlag, Bern, 1974 (translated from the Russian).


  1. Profile from the AWM Emmy Noether Lectures
  2. Article in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, December 2004, Vol. 51, 1320-1331.
  3. Remembering a Much-Respected Mathematician, NPR Weekend Edition Saturday. Scott Simon's discussion with Math Guy Keith Devlin about the life of Olga Ladyzhenskaya, January 31, 2004.
  4. Struwe, Michael. Olga Ladyzhenskaya—a life-long devotion to mathematics. Geometric analysis and nonlinear partial differential equations, 1-10, Springer, Berlin, 2003.
  5. Zajaczkowski, Wojciech. "Olga Alexandrovna Ladyzhenskaya (1922-2004)," Topological Methods in Nonlinear Analysis, Vol. 26 (2005), no. 1, 5-7.
  6. Early Memories of Olga Ladyzhenskaya and Olga Oleinik, Cathleen Morawetz, from Extended Abstracts, Proceedings of the Workshop Women in Mathematics: The Legacy of Ladyzhenskaya and Oleinik, Edited by Krystyna Kuperberg
  7. Olga Ladyzhenskaya and Olga Oleinik: Two Great Women Mathematicians of the 20th Century, Susan Friedlander and Barbara Keyfitz, from Extended Abstracts, Proceedings of the Workshop Women in Mathematics: The Legacy of Ladyzhenskaya and Oleinik, Edited by Krystyna Kuperberg
  8. Friedlander, Susan. "About the Cover: Olga Alexandrovna Ladyzhenskaya," Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 56, no. 1 (January 2019), 115-118.
  9. MathSciNet [subscription required]
  10. Author Profile at zbMath
  11. Mathematics Genealogy Project