The son of an electrical engineer and an office worker, I was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Queens College with a mathematics degree.
After a brief experience as as an actuary, I successfully worked towards a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan.
My first real job was doing research in cryptography and number theory for the federal government, via the Institute for Defense Analyses in Princeton, N.J.
Eventually, I became a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois, and later at the University of New Hampshire....my specialization was group theory.
In helping to solve the famous four-color problem, I helped bring the idea of an exhaustive mathematical proof into the computer age (which openly bothered mathematicians and philosophers)....via our use if an I.B.M. computer to make about 10 billion logical decisions involving 1,200 hours of computer time - the equivalent of 50 days.
Relative to this innovative proof, I said : "The computer was, to the best of my feeling about the subject, not thinking like a mathematician...And it was much more successful, because it was thinking not like a mathematician" AND ""Without computers, we would be stuck only proving theorems that have short proofs."
In addition to being a mathematics professor, I was interested in politics, serving on the Urbana City Council, the Dover School Board, and even was the treasurer of the Strafford County Democratic Party.
I passed away last week after a half-year struggle with esophageal cancer....but my computer-based proof lives on!
Kenneth Appel (1932 - 2013)