As a student at Harvard University, I was captured by the interesting mathematics revealed by my mentor, Marston Morse.
Though my teaching career was interupted due to WWII, I began my research in statistics when overhearing two senior naval officers discuss a bombing coverage problem...which I solved but couldn't share my solution as I needed security clearance to discuss the problem with the officers.
In addition to my long tenure at Columbia University, I taught mathematics at New York University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rutgers University, and the Institute for Advanced Study.
Both a mathematician and statistician, I did research in topology, measure theory, Boolean algebras, graph theory, statistics, and other fields.
As to my successes, I introduced empirical Bayes methods to the math world, coinvented the first stochastic approximation algorithm, and worked on the theory of powerone tests and optimal stopping.
Yet, mathematical research is filled with false starts: "Most of the time I'm just sitting there, in an almost detached manner, thinking, 'Well, here's another day's wastebasket full of paper. Nothing's come through. Maybe another day. Maybe I should stay up tonight and try some more.'"
The general public knows me as coauthor of the popular text What is Mathematics?, connected to "googol" fame....and even praised by Albert Einstein.
Answer:
Herbert Ellis Robbins (1915 – 2001)
