Honoring John M. Sullivan – Happy 60th Birthday!

Photo: John M. Sullivan | © Kay Herschelmann / MATH+


MATH+ and the BMS would like to congratulate John M. Sullivan on the occasion of his 60th birthday and extend very best wishes for his personal and professional future. His profound and consistent commitment as a BMS Chair over the last 13 years has made him a significant and much-appreciated member of the Berlin math community.


John Matthew Sullivan was born in Princeton, New Jersey (USA) on 25 February 1963. After graduating with a bachelor’s from Harvard University in 1985, he went to the University of Cambridge, where he received his master’s degree in 1986. He returned to the US for his doctoral studies under Frederick J. Almgren Jr. and received his PhD from Princeton University in 1990. After positions at MSRI and at the University of Minnesota, Sullivan became a faculty member of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1997, where he received tenure in 2004. He is still well connected as an adjunct professor since then.


© Kay Herschelmann / BMS

In 2003, John M. Sullivan moved to Berlin and was appointed as a Matheon professor for Mathematical Visualization at Technische Universität Berlin (TU). Since the foundation of the Berlin Mathematical School (BMS) as the joint graduate school of the mathematics departments of Freie Universität Berlin (FU), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), and Technische Universität Berlin (TU) in 2006, he has been a member of the Board. Since 2010, he has been part of the team of co-chairs, among which the role of chairs rotates every two years. Sullivan took over as BMS chair for the first time in 2012 and then again in 2020.


In 2013, John M. Sullivan was honored as an Inaugural Fellow of the American Mathematical Society. His research interests lie in the fields of geometry and visualization. He works on knot theory, constant-mean-curvature surfaces, mathematical foams, mesh generation, and scientific visualization. One of his former PhD students, Florian Frick, now an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, recalls his doctoral supervisor and pays tribute to his research contributions:

“Sullivan’s mathematical work, often motivated by physics, chemistry, and the visually appealing lends itself easily to his broader mission as an educator, an artist, and a communicator of mathematics. Drawing on a broad knowledge base and intuition that can only stem from decades of experience with the visual, John Sullivan has a propensity for asking the right questions — an invaluable quality in an advisor.”

Read the complete tribute on his research here.


John M. Sullivan has also presented his interest in art as a mathematician who works in mathematical visualization, as shown at the Mathematical Art Galleries in 2010.


He described his works as follows: “Like most research mathematicians, I find beauty in the elegant structure of mathematical proofs, and I feel that this elegance is discovered, not invented, by humans” and “my research studies curves and surfaces whose shape is determined by optimization principles or minimization of energy.”



MATH+ takes this opportunity to wish John M. Sullivan all the best for his 60th birthday! We are very grateful for his enduring and significant commitment to Berlin mathematics and young mathematicians within the Berlin Mathematical School (BMS) and MATH+.


Dear John, we hope you have a lovely birthday and a great time celebrating it! We look forward to working together with you in the years ahead.


Florian Frick on John M. Sullivan’s Research (PDF)

Entire text as PDF