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The Mathematical Girl

Ruth Lawrence, a child prodigy in math who at the age of 10 placed first among 530 candidates in the Oxford University entrance exam in that subject, was born in Brighton, England on this date in 1971. Her parents were both computer consultants, and her father gave up his work when she was 5 to […]

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March 28: The Stateless Mathematician

Alexander Grothendieck, a creator of modern algebraic geometry and one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, was born to anarchist parents in Berlin on this date in 1928. He was raised and lived primarily in France — during World War II in the rescuer village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, while his father died […]

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August 30: Paul Lazarsfeld and the Art of Asking Why

Sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, founder of Columbia University’s Bureau of Applied Social Research and of modern empirical sociology, died at 75 on this date in 1976. Lazarsfeld was a son of Vienna and received his doctorate in mathematics there (his dissertation dealt with the math of Einstein’s gravitational theory). He came to the U.S. in 1933 […]

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April 9: Tom Lehrer

Songwriter, social satirist, and mathematician Tom Lehrer was born on this date in 1928. In the 1960s he gained a wide audience as the resident songwriter for the American version of That Was the Week That Was, a short-lived satirical television news show, for which he wrote a famous spoof about rocket scientist Werner Von […]

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March 29: Helping Einstein

Tullio Levi-Civita, an Italian mathematician who helped Albert Einstein master the tensor calculus (also known as absolute differential calculus) that he used to explain the theory of relativity, was born in Padua on this date in 1873. Levi-Civita wrote foundational papers in both pure and applied mathematics, celestial mechanics, analytic mechanics, and hydrodynamics. Between 1915 […]

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December 18: The Mathematician of Biology

Mathematician Samuel Karlin, whose wide-ranging interests included mathematical applications for DNA analysis, game theory, economics, and population studies, died at 83 on this date in 2008. The author of 10 books and 450 scientific papers, he made significant contributions to the understanding of how random variables are governed by the laws of probability, how mathematical […]

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October 2: Mathematics in Braille

Abraham Nemeth, the founder of a system of Braille for mathematics that enabled people without sight to study and work in the field, died just short of his 95th birthday on this date in 2013. Born blind into a Yiddish-speaking family of Hungarian Jews, he developed the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation […]

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The Shock Tactics of Alexander Grothendieck

A Brilliant Mathematician’s Moral Protest by Karen Karin Rosenberg ALEXANDER GROTHENDIECK, who died last fall, was a towering figure in mathematics who won the very top awards in his field: the Field’s Medal in 1966, the Crafoord Prize in 1988. He used those events theatrically to make moral points. In protest against Soviet policies, he […]

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December 28: The Polymath

John von Neumann (Neumann János Lajos), a mathematician, physicist, and inventor who made major contributions to many mathematical disciplines, quantum physics, game theory, computing, nuclear weaponry, and several other fields, was born in Budapest on this date in 1903. His father, a banker, was granted a title by Emperor Franz Josef in 1913. Von Neumann […]

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December 8: The Prime Number Theorist

French mathematician Jacques Salomon Hadamard, whose achievements included his 1896 proof of the prime numbers theorem, which had been conjectured a century earlier (it formalizes the intuitive idea that prime numbers become less common as they become larger), was born in Versailles on this date in 1865. A lifelong academic, in 1893 he published Hadamard’s […]

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