Archive for November, 2008

Mystery Mathematicians by Eisenstaedt = D. Blackwell

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

As we guessed, some of the uncaptioned photographs by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt are indeed of famous mathematicians. We’ve identified 3. Here is the first.

David Blackwell, is perhaps the world’s most famous black mathematician. While the Rao-Blackwell theorem may be his most important, his favorite paper is On an Equation by Wald, written while teaching at Howard University, where he taught for 10 years after a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study with the likes of Einstein and Von Neumann in 1941 at age of 22. That appointment included nomination as a Visiting Fellow at Princeton, causing controversy and opposition from the University adminstration. Perhaps that is why he only applied to teach at black colleges.

In 1954 things had changed sufficiently to where he could move to the new Statistics department at UC Berkeley. In 1965, a year after these photos were taken, he became the first black elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He co-wrote a classic textbook that is still in print. There is a wondeful interview from 2002 online. Professor Blackwell is actively retired in Northern California with his large family. Next April 24th he celebrates his 90th birthday.

Mystery Math Portraits by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life = unpublished book

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Time Magazine has already opened its archives, and now Time/Life and Google have an index to Life Magazine‘s photographs. This is great news, because Life chronicled and portraited America in photographs; and no one better than the great photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. He gave us “the kiss” and Marilyn Monroe.

Apparently, in 1962/3 mathematician/computer scientist Dr. John G. Kemeny was preparing a math book using Eisenstaedt’s portraits of famous scientists. There are over 30 in the archives, including a famous picture of Kurt Godel, a great shot of the wonderful Stanislaw Ulam, and some other facinating portraits.

But who are they?  Is that Eugene Wigner? The captions don’t say. I invite elucidation.

1/!5 = historic

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008


Patrick Moberg illustration. BTW, BHO will be President number 44 = !5 = number of derangements of the set {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}.