Mustafa Alpaslan (1988-2015)

Turkey mourns the death of Mustafa Alpaslan and his wife Zişan Güner Alpaslan (b.1986), two young academicians who tragically passed away in a traffic collision on 31 July 2015. Both of them were promising members of the Faculty of Education, Middle East Technical University (METU, Ankara). Mustafa Alpaslan became an active member of the Department of Elementary Education following his nomination as “Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant” in January 2010. Soon he started a MS thesis on the use of history of mathematics in elementary mathematics education. He also started to present, together with his colleagues, papers at the international congresses on Mathematics Education, especially at ICMEs and CERMEs. These were mostly based on topics he researched for his MS and PhD theses. Mustafa was also enthusiastic in establishing and keeping international contacts: He was the distributor of the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (HPM) Newsletter for Turkey, since November 2012. In CERME-9 (Prague, 2015), he was elected Board Member of the European Society for Research in Mathematics Education (ERME). His research activities enabled him to receive scholarships and grants both from Turkish and international institutions (TUBITAK, ERME).

I came to know Mustafa when he undertook his doctoral thesis in 2011. Professors Gert Schubring (Bielefeld University, Germany), and Ali Sinan Sertöz (Bilkent University, Turkey) had advised him to contact the Department of the History of Science, Istanbul University, because his research was related to the history of mathematics; more precisely to the use of history of mathematics in mathematics education. In his very kind and modest but inquiring e-mail dated 20 September 2011, he revealed his interest in the works of medieval Islamic and Ottoman mathematicians and his wish to integrate them into mathematics education. Mustafa’s first visit to the Department of the History of Science, Istanbul, in early 2012 soon launched a fruitful collaboration. He established good contacts with the team of young researchers of the department and took two courses from the doctoral program in HS, namely “Science Journals in Turkey” and “Scientific Literature in Turkey”. The former course introduced to him the first Turkish popular journal Mebahis-i ilmiyye (Scientific themes) published in 1867 by the Turkish mathematician Vidinli Tevfik Pasha. The journal which included articles on both medieval Islamic and 19th century European mathematics immediately attracted his interest. An analysis of the journal published by F. Günergun in 2007,encouraged him to find a way of using its articles in mathematics education. The joint paper by Alpaslan, Schubring and Günergun would be the last paper he presented in an international conference (CERME-9, Prague, 2015). Those who received e-mails from Mustafa Alpaslan would surely remember the excerpts from Henri Poincaré and Niels Henrik Abel’s works, inserted at the bottom of his messages. Those reflected the importance of history of both science and mathematics in education and for the progress in sciences.

Mustafa and Zişan got married in 2013 and were looking forward to the birth of their son in a few months.

mustafa-wed

When I met them in December 2014 in Ankara, they were both radiating ideas of future projects and hoping to get funds to do research in the United States. These funds were granted shortly before the tragic accident. Mustafa was a quiet and optimistic person. He was genuinely courteous towards his colleagues and ready to provide assistance. I was often surprised to witness the serene expression of this young person, who considered death as a natural phenomenon. He had once said, “Such is life, one leaves when time is called.” His “time” came too early, too untimely. As a promising young scholar he had conveyed high expectations to all who knew him for his contributions to mathematics education and the history of mathematics. Mustafa will be sadly missed by his friends, colleagues, and students. 

Feza Günergun,

Department of the History of Science,

Istanbul University

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