Claude Chevalley (11 February 1909, Johannesburg, South Africa - 28 June 1984, Paris) was a French mathematician who made important contributions to number theory, algebraic geometry, class field theory, finite group theory, and the theory of algebraic groups. He was a founding member of the Bourbaki group.
When World War II broke out, Chevalley was at Princeton University. After reporting to the French Embassy, he stayed in the USA, first at Princeton then (after 1947) at Columbia University. His American students included Leon Ehrenpreis and Gerhard Hochschild. During his time in the USA, Chevalley became an American citizen and wrote a substantial part of his lifetime output in English.
When Chevalley applied for a chair at the Sorbonne, the difficulties he encountered were the subject of a polemical piece by his friend and fellow Bourbakiste André Weil, titled "Science Française?" and published in the NRF. Chevalley was the "professeur B" of the piece, as confirmed in the endnote to the reprint in Weil's collected works, Oeuvres Scientifiques, tome II. Chevalley eventually did obtain a position at the Université de Paris VII in 1957.
Chevalley had artistic and political interests, and was a minor member of the French Non-conformists of the 1930s. The following quote by the co-editor of Chevalley's collected works attests to these interests:
"Chevalley was a member of various avant-garde groups, both in politics and in the arts... Mathematics was the most important part of his life, but he did not draw any boundary between his mathematics and the rest of his life.
Around 1950, Chevalley wrote a three-volume treatment of Lie groups. A few years later, he published the work for which he is best remembered, his investigation into what are now called Chevalley groups. Chevalley groups make up 9 of the 18 families of finite simple groups.
Chevalley's accurate discussion of integrality conditions in the Lie algebras of semisimple groups enabled abstracting their theory from the real and complex fields. As a consequence, analogues over finite fields could be defined. This was an essential stage in the evolving classification of finite simple groups. After Chevalley's work, the distinction between "classical groups" falling into the Dynkin diagram classification, and sporadic groups which did not, became sharp enough to be useful. What are called 'twisted' groups of the classical families could be fitted into the picture.
"Chevalley's theorem" (also called the Chevalley-Warning theorem) usually refers to his result on the solubility of equations over a finite field. Another theorem of his concerns the "constructible" sets in algebraic geometry, i.e. those in the Boolean algebra generated by the Zariski-open and closed sets. It states that the image of such a set by a morphism of algebraic varieties is of the same type. Logicians would call this an application of the method of elimination of quantifiers.
In the 1950s, Chevalley led some Paris "seminars" (working groups to the English speaking world) of major importance: the Séminaire Cartan-Chevalley of the academic year 1955/6, with Henri Cartan, and the Séminaire Chevalley of 1956/7 and 1957/8. These dealt with topics on algebraic groups and the foundations of algebraic geometry, as well as pure abstract algebra. The Cartan-Chevalley seminar was the genesis of scheme theory, but its subsequent development in the hands of Alexander Grothendieck was so rapid, thorough and inclusive that its historical tracks can appear well covered. Grothendieck's work subsumed the more specialised contribution of Serre, Chevalley, Goro Shimura, and others such as Kähler and Masayoshi Nagata.