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Monday, May 25, 2015

3 Memorial Day Mathematicians

For the Center of Math, along with our United States fanbase, today is a public holiday. Many Americans celebrate with a backyard barbeque, or a day at the beach, but it's important to remember what Memorial Day is really for!

Of course, we're celebrating here by honoring a few math-minded people who have served in the United States armed forces. While there are surely many mathematicians who have served their countries all around the world (Alan Turing comes to mind), here are three Americans that you may not have heard of...

Barnard Bissinger: A math professor, actuary, and World War II veteran, Professor Bissinger was well known for his eccentric teaching personality. In 1942, at the height of the second world war, Bissinger was recruited as one of nine American academics to work with the Chinese army's "Flying Tigers." He served with his mind; Bissinger and the other American Tigers worked to calculate the most cost-effective way to bring supplies across the Himalayas, analyzed bombing accuracy, and developed cruise control procedures for the air forces. He passed away at the age of 93 in 2011.

Grace Hopper: One of the female pioneers in the computer science field, Grace Hopper graduated from Vassar College in 1928, and moved on to Yale, where she earned her masters and then Ph.D. in mathematics. She became a professor at Vassar, but left to join the U.S. Navy reserves in 1943. She learned to program a Mark I computer for the war efforts. Hopper was the first woman awarded with the National Medal of Technology in 1991, shortly before she passed away at the age of 85 in 1992. She has had a Google Doodle made in her honor!

Benjamin Alvord: This mathematician is a bit older, serving as a Brigadier General in the Union Army of the Civil War. Alvord's formal career in mathematics was not very long- he worked as a professor of mathematics at his alma mater, West Point Military Academy, for only two years. However, as his military career progressed, he still took time to publish several works. One publication (which is now housed at the Smithsonian) is titled The Tangencies of Circles and of Spheres. 

While none of the mathematicians featured gave their lives in service (as per the definition of Memorial Day), it is important to remember them anyways, along with all the people who have and are serving to protect the United States. Are there any more mathematician servicemen that you can think of? Please let us know in the comments!

1 comment:

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