Bob was born in Bethesda, Maryland in 1948. He earned a BA at Washington University in St. Louis in 1972 and his PhD at Stanford in 1977.
He joined OSU as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics in 1979 . Bob served as Department Chair of Mathematics, Associate Provost of Academic Affairs, taught in the Honors College, served on the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, and as ex-officio on the Curriculum Council, where he met his wife Vicki Tolar Burton who is a Professor of English and Director of Writing Intensive Curriculum (WIC) at OSU. Bob capped his career as Emeritus Professor in Mathematics.
Bob’s research was on dynamical systems and ergodic theory. He was internationally known for his work in probability, chaos theory and neural networks. His legacy will be hallmarked by his collaboration with Mike Keane and the resulting new proof of uniqueness of percolation clusters. Their proof is widely regarded among experts for a simplicity and elegance that will live forever in mathematics.
He contributed in bioinformatics to fundamental applications from microbiology. His work has impacted learning and adaptation, neural networks, symbolic dynamics and artificial languages, and number theory. He pursued his research with interests in linguistics, anthropology and social science, game theory, and economics. He recently worked with the Center for Gene Research and Biotechnology at OSU.
Bob’s happiness was his family; his wife Vicki Tolar Burton, daughter Sarah (OSU Department of Chemistry), daughter Maya and son-in-law Kevin, son Taber and daughter-in-law Alyssa, brother James and sister-in-law April, stepdaughter Sarah and her spouse Eric, stepson Jeffrey and his spouse Laurie, and five beloved grandchildren.
Bob was a poet, romantic, rebel, and consummate Dead Head, having danced in joy at more than 100 live Grateful Dead shows.
Vicki with Bob
“In the early days of our collaborations, Bob would excitedly arrive at my office with the germ of some mathematical idea for solving a problem of mutual interest. As we would dig deeper into the issues going forward, it would be absolutely characteristic of Bob to pace in and out of the office, ultimately to completely disappear without warning. I would sometimes mention to others that I was working with Houdini, but this was Bob’s quite unique way in which to fully engage in mathematical collaboration, often with good reward.” Ed Waymire, OSU Math.
“I’ve spent hours over two decades conversing with Bob about theories of education. Whenever I encountered him at a meeting, traversing campus, or while grocery shopping, Bob would launch straight into his ideas about teaching and learning and I was happy to go there with him.” Jon Dorbolo, Technology Across the Curriculum (TAC).
Donations may be made in his memory to the Association for Women in Mathematics.