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Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 12:28 am UTC
by dontrush
I have to do a biography of a mathematician for my (High-School AP) Calculus class. My question to you is:
What mathematician do you think has lead the most interesting life?

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 12:39 am UTC
by Yakk
Noether
Erdos
Einstein
Newton
Leibniz
Galois

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 12:43 am UTC
by mmmcannibalism
Nash would be a good choice

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 12:58 am UTC
by Talith
In terms of interesting life I'd have to vote for nash aswell. I mean there's a movie based on his life, atleast a few million people thought his life was interesting.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 1:19 am UTC
by Tirian
Galois is the easy choice. Ramanujan is the fun one.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 1:56 am UTC
by Syrin
Erdos gets my vote.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 3:27 am UTC
by MidsizeBlowfish
Galois..lived hard and died young.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 3:35 am UTC
by Cmebeh
Cantor and Godel
P.S. Newton didn't invent calculus.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 3:41 am UTC
by dissonant
My vote is for GROTHENDIECK.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 3:42 am UTC
by Cleverbeans
There are so many it's hard to choose. Personally, I would avoid Nash because of the movie, and on top of that it's rather boring in comparion.

If you're looking for something off the beaten path, Jamshīd al-Kāshī is an excellent choice. Muslim mathematics during the middle ages is often overlooked, although you may have trouble finding resources. For a more modern figure, Alan Turing is an excellent choice. He's the father of the modern computer and died under tragic circumstances. Alexander Grothendieck would make an interesting study as well. Ramanujan has an incredible biography as well, almost unbelievable really. A lesser known mathematician with a colorful personal life can be found in Gerolamo Cardano, who's family life reads like a soap opera. Georg Cantor should get mention as well, since he fits squarely in the eccentric camp.

With all that said, my person favorite is Leonard Euler. In his lifetime he wrote 1/3 of all the math produced in the world single handedly, and 2/3 of it while totally blind. That works out to 17 pages of original work for every single day he was alive. Because of this he standardized many of the common notation we use today, including the modern interpretation of [imath]\pi[/imath], [imath]e[/imath], and [imath]i[/imath]. On top of that he was incredibly well adjusted, which if rather rare among mathematicians. He was known as an excellent and approachable instructor, and held mainstream political and religious views for his time. His work spans almost every area of math you can imagine from the most pure to the most applied, and created new branches as well. He's easily the greatest mathematician who ever lived, and you'll you'll have no trouble meeting the length requirements for the essay or finding resources.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 4:00 am UTC
by doogly
I'm all about Turing.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 4:11 am UTC
by Cmebeh
If you are going to do turing then you have to do church, since they pretty much did the same thing in mathematics. Turing spent too much of his time doing useful stuff like building the first computers and breaking the german code etc.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 4:15 am UTC
by Dason
Galois had some interesting last days and died quite young. Martin Gardner just recently passed and contributed a lot to the modern math community.

In reality there are a lot of interesting mathematicians and it wouldn't hurt to just learn a little bit about each one before you decide on your final topic.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 4:21 am UTC
by Cleverbeans
I don't know how I neglected John Conway either, he certainly deserves mention.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 5:49 am UTC
by Fluid_Dynamic
I'm gonna have to say Turing life was pretty amazing
(and his death rather tragic, and a testament that humanity still had a ways to go ...).

If the OP's question is just a veiled test to see who thought Turing was interesting,
would this be a Turing test?
Did I pass the Turing test?

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 8:02 am UTC
by PM 2Ring
Obviously, I also nominate AM Turing. :) (FWIW, the anniversaries of his death & birth are in June).

I agree that John Conway is a very interesting character, too.

Martin Gardner did a lot to promote & popularize mathematics, but I don't know if he'd be a good candidate for an essay for a Calculus class:
Wikipedia wrote:Gardner had problems learning calculus and never took a mathematics course beyond high school.[3]

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 3:58 pm UTC
by modularblues
Doug Hofstadter? Granted he didn't just do math, but he's my kind of mathematician (Renaissance man) :P

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 6:37 pm UTC
by Lycur
I'm going to nth the Galois recommendation, he was a particularly interesting guy. You may still be a little lacking in the mathematical maturity necessary to appreciate his work though (I certainly was at the end of the high school).

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 7:37 pm UTC
by Dason
Lycur wrote:I'm going to nth the Galois recommendation, he was a particularly interesting guy. You may still be a little lacking in the mathematical maturity necessary to appreciate his work though (I certainly was at the end of the high school).

Ahh but I say that's a good thing. I loved reading about the topics I knew nothing about. You don't have to go in depth but it's quite interesting. Learning about Henri Poincaré got me quite interested in topology before I even knew it existed.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 7:53 pm UTC
by tesseraktik
Galois certainly seems a good choice, although as Lycur points out, his contributions may be difficult to appreciate. You might consider reading up on Niels Henrik Abel, a Norwegian mathematician who was contemporary with Galois and did similar work. In my experience, he is virtually unknown high school students, but becomes a household name during one's first year of college (at least if one chooses to delve a bit into abstract algebra). At least two of his great contributions to mathematics should be easy to appreciate: He proved, together with that there is no formula such as the quadratic formula for polynomial equations of rank five or higher, and he proved that the binomial theorem held for the set of real numbers (...or was it for all commutative rings, even?); both of these facts are taught to high school calculus students, but all without mentioning Abel (...or any of the others that did similar work, for that matter). There's also some more complicated stuff to read up on, if you'd like; he developed group theory independently of Galois, for instance.
There are also some interesting facts about his personal life. For instance, he was twelve years old when Norway declared independence (although if Norway had been on Facebook back then, they might've listed their sovereignty status as "It's complicated"), and his father was one of the first representatives of Norway's independent parliament. Like Galois, he did a lot of great work while still very young, and like Galois', his death came too soon but had some romantic qualities to it.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Sun May 30, 2010 9:51 pm UTC
by DavCrav
dissonant wrote:My vote is for GROTHENDIECK.


This.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 1:42 am UTC
by ConMan
I'd put in the vote for Erdos as well, not so much for his mathematics (which was pretty impressive in itself) but for the life he lived - a man who spent his life hepped up on amphetamines and caffeine, barely sleeping, travelling from city to city staying wherever the local mathematicians would put him up - for as long as they'd put up with him - believing that God held "the Book" of all proofs and was cruel enough to only reveal it a page at a time, offering students cash prizes for unsolved puzzles, speaking in a series of euphemisms that included such gems as "epsilons" for children and "the Sam and Joe Show" for the Evening News (referring to the fact that he called the US "[Uncle] Sam" and the USSR "Joe [Stalin]"), and the one time he gave up his drugs for a bet he complained that the person who had bet him had put the progress of mathematics back a month. You couldn't make a movie of his life because no-one would believe it.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 2:29 am UTC
by Cmebeh
ConMan wrote: You couldn't make a movie of his life because no-one would believe it.


Watch "N is a Number"

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 3:58 am UTC
by Dason
ConMan wrote:You couldn't make a movie of his life because no-one would believe it.

This is why I haven't made my movie based on the life and times of Tony Stark.

wait a second...

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 5:59 am UTC
by nash1429
Yakk wrote:Noether
Erdos
Einstein
Newton
Leibniz
Galois

einstein wasn't a mathematician. he had to have friends do much of his math for him.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 6:03 am UTC
by BlackSails
nash1429 wrote:einstein wasn't a mathematician. he had to have friends do much of his math for him.


That is not quite true. In fact, thats basically the opposite of true.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 7:19 am UTC
by Black
Most mathematicians are crazy anyway. Pick one and go with it.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 8:06 am UTC
by PM 2Ring
BlackSails wrote:
nash1429 wrote:einstein wasn't a mathematician. he had to have friends do much of his math for him.


That is not quite true. In fact, thats basically the opposite of true.

He did need Minkowski's assistance to understand the maths of curved spaces, but at the time that was a very esoteric & obscure branch of pure mathematics.

Mathematically speaking, I bet Albert could've wiped the floor with most of us on this forum.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 12:10 pm UTC
by tesseraktik
nash1429 wrote:einstein wasn't a mathematician. he had to have friends do much of his math for him.
"Tullio Levi-Civita - The man who corrected Einstein's work" might make for an interesting title... ...although I honestly don't know much about the fellow, except that the math he did is difficult to study in one's spare time in high school (and personally I didn't find it all that satisfying, either, lacking knowledge of the basics underlying tensor algebra).

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 1:47 pm UTC
by Cleverbeans
Speaking of Einstein, one of his good friends was a mathematician - Emanuel Lasker, who was also the most dominant chess player of all time, holding the world championship for 27 years. His biography is very interesting as well.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 2:58 pm UTC
by Hackfleischkannibale
I think you should pay a bit of attention to what you're supposed to be doing; that is, present a mathematician to a high school class, probably in a very limited frame of time. I think that may help narrow it down:

  • He should be somewhat well-known. Grothendieck may have led a very interesting life, but there's a chance your classmates won't actually give a shit.
  • It should be easy to explain what (s)he did. This may be a crucial factor in many cases; for example, I can't think of a way to explain Galois or Riemann to a high school audience.
  • Don't overburden yourself. I imagine paying due respect to Euler in a fifteen-minute presentation to be rather hard.

Also, I would want to give a picture of a what mathematician generally does, which would prevent me from using Ramanujan, say; but that's a personal thing and Ramanujan isn't a bad choice if you don't care that he's very unusual. I would probably present Turing - it's easy to explain what he did ("first, he did codebreaking for the troops, then, he did invent the 1-and-0-principle of the computer. Then people did hate him because he was gay"), he's very important (to the point that I'd imagine people going "why don't I already know this guy?") and interesting.

Bear in mind though that this comes from a sleep-deprived not-yet-student.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 3:30 pm UTC
by rhetorical
John Conway.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Tue Jun 01, 2010 4:49 am UTC
by modularblues
If it's for school project...

(1) Carl Friedrich Gauss
(2) Any of the techie Bernoullis (e.g. Daniel)
(3) Pierre-Simon Laplace
(4) Sofia Kovalevskaya because she's a she.

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Wed Jun 02, 2010 8:53 am UTC
by DavCrav
rhetorical wrote:John Conway.

is an interesting guy, yes. He has boxes in the attic labelled with each month, where all the random things he's drawn on during that month are kept. This is the best filing system as far as he's concerned. At least that's what his wife told me. :) He was still playing a friend of mine at dots and boxes at this point...

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 1:08 am UTC
by nash1429
PM 2Ring wrote:
BlackSails wrote:
nash1429 wrote:einstein wasn't a mathematician. he had to have friends do much of his math for him.


That is not quite true. In fact, thats basically the opposite of true.

He did need Minkowski's assistance to understand the maths of curved spaces, but at the time that was a very esoteric & obscure branch of pure mathematics.

Mathematically speaking, I bet Albert could've wiped the floor with most of us on this forum.


"Whatever your difficulties with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater."

Of course, being as creative and unconventional as he was he probably could have made done some remarkable mathematics if he had focused on it. But he actually disliked mathematics as concealing the otherwise unadulterated beauty of physics. (physics is to math as sex is to masturbation)

Re: Most interesting mathematician?

Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 2:59 am UTC
by Yakk
Al's difficulties with mathematics are because he was going deep into the deep end to wrest theoretical monsters out of the ocean, and turn them into fish farms of knowledge.

Someone who merely has issues making change has a relatively smaller difficulty with mathematics (in the sense that the amount of time that person spends stymied by mathematics is far smaller).