John Von Neumann December 28, 1903

By your super awesome classmate, and future noble
prize winner/ first person to walk on Mars.
-Christopher Dysart
 Born in Budapest,
 Eldest of three boys, &
son of wealthy Jewish
 Originally named
Neumann Jano’s Lagos
 Child prodigy in the areas of: language,
memorization, & mathematics
memorized telephone directories on
Six years old- could exchange jokes in
classical Greek, & perform huge
mathematical calculations in his head.
Eight years old- mastered calculus.
His father hired private tutors for him,
since he was not allowed to skip grades
but needed advanced instruction.
Fifteen years old- Brought his calculus
instructor, Gabor Szego, to tears of
amazement at his genius.
 Adult Life
 By nineteen, had published two major mathematical
 -one of these papers developed the modern
definition of ordinal numbers which superceded
 Received Ph.D. in mathematics (w/minor in
experimental physics & chemistry) from Pazmany
Peter University in Budapest at twenty-two years old.
 1926-30, taught as a Privatdozent (associate
professor) at the University of Berlin (youngest in
 By 1929, was writing major papers at the rate of one
per month.
• 1930- was invited to Princeton
University, and was one of the
first four people selected for
the faculty of the Institute of
Advanced Study.
-Two of the others were Kurt
Gödel and Albert Einstein.
• Was a professor here from 1933
until his death
• had a daughter, Marina, with
his first wife.
• -his daughter became a professor
at the University of Michigan.
• Married his second wife, Klara
• They were both very socially active
in the Princeton community
• They’d throw swanky parties twice
a week at their large estate .
• John was a notoriously bad driver,
yet loved to drive, especially while
• This led to many arrests
and accidents.
Random stuff
• John believed his mathematical thought was
intuitive, and he said that he’d go to bed with a
problem unsolved, and wake up with the answer.
• Had a photographic memory. He could read a
book or article once and quote it back verbatim,
and could do it years later without hesitation.
• He enjoyed eating and drinking so much that his
wife Klara said “he could count everything
except calories”.
• Enjoyed “off color” humor, and received
complaints for playing extremely loud German
marching music on his gramophone in his office,
which disturbed his neighbors, which included
Albert Einstein.
His Death
1955- diagnosed with bone or
pancreatic cancer
• “It is plausible that in 1955 the thenfifty-one-year-old Johnny’s cancer
sprang from his attendance at the
1946 Bikini nuclear tests.” –Norman
Macrae, biographer
• Shocked his friends by inviting a
Roman Catholic priest to visit him
for a consultation. He was a well
known agnostic.
-mentioned Pascal’s wager
• He died under military security so
that he could not reveal military
secrets while heavily medicated.
Father of Game Theory
• Founded the field of game theory as a
mathematical discipline.
• Proved his minimax theorem in 1928
-It establishes that in zero-sum games
w/ perfect information (in which
players know at each moment all
moves that have taken place so far),
their exists a pair of strategies for both
parties that allow each to minimize his
maximum losses.
• A player must determine every possible
strategy and consider all possible
responses of his or her adversary.
• The player then plays out the strategy
which will result in the minimization of
their maximum losses
-these strategies, which minimize loss,
are called optimal.
• Improved and extended the
minimax theorem to deal
w/games involving imperfect
information and games with more
than two players
• He published his results in the
1944 book “Theory of Games and
Economic Behavior”
• New York Times ran a front page
story on it.
Manhattan Project & Military Involvement
• Late 1930’s- John von Neumann became interested in
applied mathematics, and developed an expertise in
• This led to military consultations, and eventually his
involvement in the Manhattan Project.
• Main Contribution to the atomic bomb was conceptualizing
and designing the explosive lenses needed to compress the
plutonium core of the Trinity test device and the “Fat Man”
that would be dropped on Nagasaki
• Also determined that the effectiveness of an atomic bomb
would be enhanced with detonation a few kilometers above
the target, instead of ground level.
• Spring 1945- he was selected, along
with four other scientists and military
personal, to a committee responsible
for choosing Hiroshima and Nagasaki
as the first targets of the atomic
• If left to John alone, Kyoto would have
been the first city bombed.
• Coined the acronym M.A.D., which stands for mutually assured
• It is the doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which
full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two opposing
sides would effectively result in the complete, utter, and irrevocable
annihilation of both the attacker and defender, which leads to a war w/ no
• He was also a Cold War strategist
"A végén"
- The end