Biographies

John von Neumann, nuclear energy and computers

John von Neumann, nuclear energy and computers

John von Neumann He was a great mathematician who stood out in numerical analysis, statistics, quantum physics, nuclear energy, computing, cybernetics, hydrodynamics and other scientific fields. He developed the branch of mathematics known as game theory.

Neumann János Lajos was born in Budapest, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on December 28, 1903. As a child he was astonished to everyone for his memory; They say he read a column in the phone book several times and was able to answer questions asked of names, addresses or telephone numbers.

Although von Neumann's orientation towards mathematics was clear, he studied chemistry under his father's influence. He began his career at the University of Berlin and finished it in Zurich. In 1926, he received a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Budapest, with a thesis on set theory. In this thesis he gave a definition of ordinal numbers which is the one still used today.

Between 1926 and 1929 he taught mathematics at the University of Berlin and in Hamburg between 1929 and 1930. He also studied between 1926 and 1927 at Göttingen. By this time Neumann was already recognized as a genius.

In 1930 Neumann was invited to give a course at Princeton University. He was a teacher between 1930 and 1933, however, he was not a good teacher, it was very difficult to follow his explanations. From 1933 he joined the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton (New Jersey).

John von Neumann acquired US citizenship in 1937 and during World War II he served as an advisor on the atomic bomb project. In March 1955 he was appointed member of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. He actively participated in the Manhattan Project, in the Los Alamos laboratory, in New Mexico. The design of the implosion method of nuclear bombs is due to Von Neumann. He also helped many Jewish scientists who fled Germany to find work in the United States.

He stood out for his fundamental contributions to quantum theory, especially the concept of operator rings (currently known as Neumann algebra) and also for his work of initiation of applied mathematics, mainly statistics and numerical analysis.

Von Neumann was a pioneer in computer science. He was the creator of the architecture of the current computers, proposed the adoption of the bit as a measure of the memory of the computers, solved the problem of obtaining reliable answers with unreliable components (parity bit).

He participated in the design of what is considered the first computer, the ENIAC, designed to calculate the trajectory of the projectiles. In this computer the program modifications meant changing the connection of the valves. Von Neumann proposed to separate the software from the hardware. This design was done on the EDVAC computer.

In 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission awarded him the first Enrico Fermi medal for his notable contributions to the theory and design of electronic computers. The relationship of acknowledgments he obtained throughout his short life is endless.

Von Neumann, besides having a portentous intelligence and a prodigious memory, was a very funny person. In his youth, he frequented the cabarets in Berlin and during his stay in Princeton his parties were famous.

He died of cancer on February 8, 1957 in Washington, at age 53. It is believed that the cancer was due to exposure to radioactivity, in their stays in the laboratory of Los Alamos.

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