Home > Mathematician of the Week Archive Detail

<< Prev 2/9/2014 Next >>

Born in Budapest, Hungary, I had an uneven early life as my mother died when I was 6 months old and my father moved to the U.S., leaving my two brothers and myself with a local physician.

At age 13, I rejoined my father in the U.S. but never lost my Hungarian accent; by age 19, I had earned a B.A. from the University of Illinois, with a major in philosophy and a minor in mathematics.

The natural next step was graduate school in philosophy, but I failed the masters' oral exams...so I shifted to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics.

Supervised by Joseph Doob, I wrote a thesis that basically explored and explained the mathematical theory underlying gambling systems.

Seems like I have taught mathematics everywhere: Institute for Advanced Study, Syracuse University, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Hawaii, Indiana University, and finally Santa Clara University.

Though my research contributed significantly to the areas of probability theory, statistics, operator theory, ergodic theory, and functional analysis...I am remembered best for my abilities as a mathematical expositor.

In an American Scientist article, I portrayed mathematics as a creative art, arguing mathematicians should be viewed as artists not number crunchers....and thus divided the field into mathology and mathophysics.

In my "automathography," I invented the "iff" notation for the words "if and only if" and first used the “tombstone” symbol ∎ to signify the end of a proof.

Known for many shared quotations, I am especially proud of this one "What does it take to be a mathematician? I think I know the answer: you have to be born right, you must continually strive to become perfect, you must love mathematics more than anything else, you must work at it hard and without stop, and you must never give up."

Answer: Paul Richard Halmos (1916 - 2006)