Matthew Brennan

Obituary of Matthew Stewart Brennan


Matthew, cherished son and only child of Mark Brennan and Winnie Tse, passed away suddenly in Boston on Tuesday, January 26th. He was exercising on his stationary bike when his heart stopped. His parents, lifelong friend Neil MacAlasdair (who is like a brother to Matthew), relatives and friends are devastated by the loss of his incredible spirit and promising future.


Born in Toronto, Matthew was an intense child with a laser focus on his passions, starting with building and construction vehicles, then onto transformers, and finally onto mathematics which became the focus of the rest of his academic life. He attended Upper Canada College for 12 wonderful years, earning a perfect International Baccalaureate score, the Grant Medal, the Governor General’s Medal and recognition as Head Boy upon graduation. He represented Canada at the International Math Olympiad twice, winning a bronze medal in 2011 in the Netherlands and a gold medal in 2012 in Argentina. He then attended MIT in Boston for almost 9 years, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and in Mathematics in 2016 with a perfect 5.0 grade point average and a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 2018. For his Master’s thesis, he was awarded the Ernst A. Guillemin Award for Best Thesis in Electrical Engineering. Matthew was to have received his Ph.D. in the spring of 2021. In 2018 his paper, “Reducibility and Computational Lower Bounds for Problems with Planted Sparse Structure” was awarded the Best Student Paper Award at the Conference on Learning Theory (COLT), a leading conference on the theory of machine learning. In 2020, he was again awarded the Best Student Paper Award at COLT for a related work, “Reducibility and Statistical Computational Gaps from Secret Leakage”. In December 2020, Matthew accepted a prestigious Miller Fellowship at UC Berkeley, which was to have commenced in the fall of 2021. Established members of the international research community at the interface of statistics and computation described Matthew’s doctoral work as ground-breaking, opening the door to exciting lines of inquiry that will continue to be explored for years to come. He was regarded as a leader in his field, even at the young age of 26. Matthew’s love of learning was boundless, and he was fiercely dedicated to hard work.


In addition to his academic pursuits, Matthew mentored the Canadian Math Olympiad teams during his MIT years, preparing for and during competitions in South Africa and Brazil, culminating in serving as Canadian team leader in England in 2019. He was passionate about basketball, movies and baby boom era music. But mostly he was passionate about his wonderful friends, the tight-knit group of boys from Upper Canada College, his many friends from the Olympiad math contest world and his many friends from MIT. He was an extremely generous, kind, optimistic and enthusiastic person with an infectious laugh and a love of storytelling. He affected all who knew him. And he was a loving and much-loved son to his parents.


A private funeral service will be held for members of the family. A virtual celebration of Matthew’s life will be held on Saturday, February 20, 2021. Please contact the family for the streaming link.  


If you wish, donations may be made to the general fund of the Canadian Mathematical Society, online at in memory of Matthew Brennan.  Condolences may be forwarded through