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Professor Lokenath Debnath was an internationally renowned mathematician, dedicated university academic leader, and a devoted husband and father. He was born in India in 1935 into a large family in a part of East Bengal that ultimately became Bangladesh during the independence and partition of India in 1947. As a result of the political upheaval during partition, he and his family were displaced, essentially becoming refugees, forced a restart their lives in West Bengal with little in the way of resources.
Despite these immense challenges, Dr. Debnath excelled academically at a young age and his talent afforded him a path to pursue a university education, where he triple majored in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at the University of Calcutta. Thereafter, he received a both Master’s and a PhD from University of Calcutta in Pure Mathematics in 1965. Due to his immense success, he received a highly prestigious Commonwealth fellowship allowing him the opportunity to pursue further graduate work in the UK. There he studied at Imperial College in London, considered by many as the “MIT of the UK” and received a second PhD in Applied Mathematics in 1967.
Upon finishing his PhD, Dr. Debnath was recruited to the US as an Associate Professor in both the Departments of Mathematics and Physic at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. Within a year, he became a Full Professor; such a rapid rise through the academic ranks is extraordinarily rare. At ECU, Dr. Debnath published prolifically in the areas of nonlinear waves, the physics of fluids, and plasma physics. In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Dr. Debnath contributed to the internationalization of the Department at the very highest levels. In 1978, he founded a highly successful journal, the International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences, and he served faithfully as its Editor-in-Chief from 1978 to 2007. While in North Carolina, he married Dr. Sadhana Debnath, an accomplished chemist, and his loving wife for 54 years, before she passed away in 2022. In 1971, the couple had their only son, Dr. Jayanta (Jay) Debnath, who would later receive his MD from Harvard Medical School and currently serves on the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco.
In 1983, Dr. Debnath was recruited as the Chair of Mathematics to the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, where he greatly expanded the scope and number of faculty in the Department, while continuing to be prolific in his research and teaching. In 2001, Dr. Debnath transitioned again and became the Chair of Mathematics at University of Texas Pan American, now called University of Texan Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Once again, he brought boundless energy and enthusiasm to UTRGV and transformed the Department into one of the best in the state of Texas, significantly growing the number and reputation of the faculty and expanding the degree offerings. Dr. Debnath received many honors but perhaps most notable in his later career was the University Faculty Excellence in Service Award from UTRGV in 2013 for his transformation of the Department of Mathematics while serving as its Chair. Dr. Debnath ultimately retired from UTRGV in 2018 at the age of 83 and moved from McAllen to Weslaco, Texas in 2019.
Throughout his decades-long career, Dr. Debnath was regarded world-wide for his passion for mathematics, his high standards, his infectious optimism, but probably most of all, his unmatched output as a scholarly writer. Dr. Debnath authored hundreds of research papers and articles and wrote countless textbooks across a wide spectrum of topics in mathematics.
Dr. Debnath will not only be remembered for his immense success as a mathematician, scholar, and academic leader, but most importantly, for his incredible generosity of spirit. At ECU, UCF, UTRGV, and throughout the world, he not just helped, but literally transformed the careers and lives of countless mathematicians, scientists, and students. For a myriad of reasons, he will be remembered as one of the greats in the mathematical world as well as at the institutions he served, especially UTRGV. But probably what mattered to him most was his ability to simply “to do good”, to help his colleagues and students to the greatest extent possible.
Dr. Debnath is survived by two sisters and his brother, Dr. Narayan Debnath, Dean of Computing at Eastern International University in Vietnam, as well as his son, Dr. Jay Debnath, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Pathology at University of California San Francisco, his daughter-in-law Dr. Runi Chattopadhyay, and his grandchildren Maya and Kirin Debnath, all of whom live in California.
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