Levy, who is remembered more widely as a mathematician and philosopher, was born the third of eight children in early 1889 in Edinburgh into an orthodox Jewish family, his father being an art dealer. He was educated at George Heriot’s School and the University of Edinburgh, where he read mathematics and physics, graduating in 1911 with First Class honours. He then won a Ferguson Scholarship, an 1851 Exhibition and a Carnegie Research Fellowship which enabled him to undertake research at the University of Gottingen.
He worked in Germany until the outbreak of World War I, when he went to work in England, initially at Oxford until 1916, and then as member of the aeronautics research staff at the National Physical Laboratory. From this period comes one of Levy’s most important works, `Aeronautics in Theory and Experiment� (1918). In 1920, he became an assistant professor of mathematics at the Royal College of Science of the Imperial College of Science and Technology and was promoted to Professor of Mathematics three years later.
He had become influenced by poverty he saw around him in childhood, was strongly concerned to ensure that science should be employed for the benefit of all humanity. Levy was a Labour Party member in the 1920s and chaired its Science Advisory Committee from 1924 to 1930.
He joined the Communist Party in 1931. His 1932 philosophical book, `The Universe of Science� clearly utilised a materialistic approach. Levy maintained a deep commitment and loyalty to the Communist Party for 25 years. But, after he visited the Soviet Union 1956 as a member of a British Communist Party Delegation with the remit of investigating reports of repression from 1949, under Stalin�s direction, of Jewish writers, artists and intellectuals. A paranoid suspicion of Jews had arisen following the foundation of Israel, as US and Soviet foreign policy each began a parallel shift on the on hand away and on the other towards Arab nationalism.
The circumstances he found in the Soviet Union appalled Levy, who wrote an article on the issue for the Party weekly `World News and Views� in January 1957. Later that year he published a book, `Jews and the National Question’. Rajani Palme Dutt promptly condemned this as a departure from Marxism and, thus goaded, Levy then launched a strong attack on the leaders of the British Communist Party at its 1957 Party Congress, demanding to know if they had been aware of the treatment of the Jews. As a direct result of this controversy, Levy was expelled from the Communist Party in 1958.
Despite his adherence to Communism, his academic career did not suffer during the Cold War, since he was already installed in senior university positions before the worst onset of victimisation occurred and tradition dictated that he could not be moved. He had become Head of the Mathematics and Mechanics Department in 1946 and Dean of the whole of the Royal College of Science from the same year to 1952. Two years later, he formally retired and became a Professor Emeritus, although he continued to act as head of the mathematics department at Imperial College for one further year until 1955.
His published mathematical work is mainly focused on the fields of probability, numerical methods, differential equations, finite difference equations and statistics. Among works he published were `Numerical Studies in Differential Equations’ (1934), `Elements of the Theory of Probability’ (1936) and `Finite Difference Equations’ (1958). Hyman Levy died on 27th February 1975 in Wimbledon.