Neumann, János (John von)

(Budapest, December 28th, 1903 – Washington, February 8th, 1957)

Neumann, János

Brilliant mathematician, synthesizer, and promoter of the stored program concept, whose logical design of the IAS became the prototype of most of its successors - the von Neumann Architecture.

In 1913 his father, Max Neumann purchased a title and his son used the German form von Neumann where the "von" indicated the title, however, He was called Jancsi as a child, a diminutive form of János and then later he was called Johnny in the United States.

Von Neumann was a child prodigy, born into a banking family is Budapest, Hungary. As a child he had an excellent memory. When only six years old he could divide eight-digit numbers in his head.

In 1911 von Neumann entered the 'Fasori' Lutheran Gymnasium. The school had a strong academic tradition and his teachers quickly recognised von Neumann's talent and special tuition in mathematics was put on for him under the tutelage of M. Fekete the assistant at the University of Budapest , with whom he published his first paper at the age of 18. The school had another outstanding mathematician one year ahead of von Neumann, namely Jenő Wigner.

In 1921 von Neumann completed his education at the Lutheran Gymnasium. However his father did not want his son to take up mathematics, a subject that would not bring him wealth. Max Neumann asked Tódor Karman to convince his son and in the end they agreed on the compromise subject of chemistry.

Entering the University of Science (Budapest) Web link in 1921 moving his base of studies to both Berlin and Zurich: at Berlin University Web link and at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule of Zurich, Web link and obtained his diploma in chemical engineering in 1926. At the same time, he also graduated from Budapest University of Science; here, he studied mathematics, physics and chemistry. He returned to his first love of mathematics. He took his doctorate examination of mathematics (with minors in experimental physics and chemistry) before Lipót Fejér and obtained his doctorate degree in 1926 with a thesis on set theory.

Neumann quickly gained a reputation in set theory, algebra, and quantum mechanics. He obtained a scholarship and went to Göttingen Web linkwhere he worked with David Hilbert. He qualified as a lecturer at Berlin University in 1927. At a time of political unrest in Europe, he was invited as a guest professor at Princeton University, Web linkin 1930, for one year, and when the Institute for Advanced Studies Web link was established there in 1933, he was appointed to be one of the original six Professors of Mathematics, a position which he retained for the remainder of his life.

The mathematician Ulam wrote von Neumann's work in this period:

"In his youthful work, he was concerned not only with mathematical logic and the axiomatics of set theory, but, simultaneously, with the substance of set theory itself, obtaining interesting results in measure theory and the theory of real variables. It was in this period also that he began his classical work on quantum theory, the mathematical foundation of the theory of measurement in quantum theory and the new statistical mechanics."
(Ulam, S. : John von Neumann, 1903-1957, Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 64 (1958), 1-49.)

John von Neumann has played an rather role in post-war economic theory through two essential works: his 1937 paper on a multi-sectoral growth model and his 1944 book (with Oskar Morgenstern) on game theory and uncertainty. In the famous 1937 paper he wrote on general equilibrium, capital and growth theory and introduced several important concepts of resurrecting "mathematical economics". His 1944 book with Oskar Morgenstern, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior was a landmark of twentieth century social science. They invented the entire field of game theory. Neumann began doing this resarch with a 1928 article, and this book introduced several other important elements used in other fields of economics, such as the axiomatization of utility theory, that of of choice under uncertainty become later main resarch field of János Harsányi.

During World War II, Neumann also worked at Los Alamos from 1943 onwards. In 1944 and 1945, he participated in the work aimed at building computers at the Moore School of Engineering University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His results relating to the logical design and architecture of computers are considered to be fundamental.

Two computers was built with Neumann's contribution: ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) and EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer). He continued his work at Princeton and the computer developed here was called IAC (Integer Automatic Computer). In 1951, Neumann also acted as an adviser for IBM, which, based on Neumann's proposal, altered the development and production of scientific computers.

Besides the research and development of computers he was the founder of the theory of cell-automata. His work performed in the field of hydrodynamics contributed to the knowledge of the character of shock waves, played an decisive part in the development of the explosive chain-reaction (nuclear bomb). In his last, uncompleted work The Computer and the Brain he has compared the operation and structure of the two information processor systems.

He was an adviser of the Weapons Systems Evaluation group from 1950, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the US Air Force from 1951 and, in addition, an adviser on a number of other important military boards. The highest position occupied by him was membership in the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1955.

Bibliography: URL: Web link

Memberships: a number of universities awarded him the title of honorary doctor and many national academies of science elected him as a member for his activities. Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Member, Academiz Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Lima, Peru; Member, Acamedia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome, Italy; Member, National Academy of Sciences; Member, Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences and Letters, Amsterdam, Netherlands;

Honours: Eötvös prize, awarded during his school days; D.Sc. (Hon), Princeton University, Presidential Medal for Merit (1947), US Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award (1948); D.Sc. (Hon), University of Pennsylvania, 1950; D.Sc. (Hon), Harvard University, 1950; D.Sc. (Hon), University of Istanbul, 1952; D.Sc. (Hon), Case Institute of Technology, 1952; D.Sc. (Hon), University of Maryland, 1952; D.Sc. (Hon), Institute of Polytechnics, Munich, 1953; Medal of Freedom (Presidential Award 1956), 1956; Albert Einstein Commemorative Award, 1956; Medal of Freedom , Fermi Gold Medal, Fermi Award, Einstein Award. Enrico Fermi Award, 1956;