NEUMANN, JOHANN (Johnny) LUDWIG VON


NEUMANN, JOHANN (Johnny) LUDWIG VON (1903–1957), U.S. mathematician. Von Neumann was born in Budapest and showed outstanding mathematical ability at an early age. He accepted a chair at Princeton University in 1931. Two years later he was appointed the first professor of mathematical physics at the newly formed Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. In 1954 his health began to deteriorate, and he died after a prolonged and painful illness.

Von Neumann's thought processes were rapid and his associates often found it difficult to keep up with his vast flow of ideas. He was also a linguist and could converse in seven European languages. He preferred general to special problems, and rarely worried about mathematical elegance. In connection with a long-winded but straightforward proof he is quoted as saying that he "didn't have the time to make the subject difficult." Von Neumann's interest in quantum mechanics was aroused by his stay in Goettingen in 1926. He aimed at developing the subject as a vigorous mathematical discipline in Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik (1932). This investigation led him to research in Hilbert space and the initiation of continuous geometry. In addition, Von Neumann made important contributions to measure theory, ergodic theory, continuous groups, topology, classical mechanics, hydrodynamic turbulence, and shock waves. He opened up a new branch of mathematics with his paper "Zur Theorie der Gesellschaftsspiele," (in Mathematische Annalen, 100 (1928), 295–320) and the book Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944, 19533) written in collaboration with O. Morgenstern.

Von Neumann's work in the war effort convinced him of the need for high-speed computers. He was instrumental in the development of MANIAC (the mathematical analyzer, numerical integrator, and computer) and was a member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1955 until his death. His Von Neumann Collected Works were published in six volumes from 1961 to 1963.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Current Biography Yearbook 1955 (1956), 624–7; Bochner, in: National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, 32 (1958), 438–57; Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 64:3, pt. 2 (May 1958), special issue dedicated to J. von Neumann, incl. bibl.; F. Smithies, in: Journal of the London Mathematical Society, 34 (1959), 373–84; S. Thomas, Men of Space, 1 (1960), 181–203 (incl. bibl.).

[Barry Spain]


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