John Von Neumann


Born 28 December 1903, Budapest, Hungary.

Died 8 February 1957, Washington DC.

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.Image


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John von Neumann was a famous Hungarian-American mathematician, who is still revered for his unparalleled contributions to disciplines like mathematics, science, economics and many more. Born in a wealthy family to Jewish parents, he was a child prodigy, exhibiting great analytic and computing skills. He was able to divide eight – digit numbers in mind in very early ages, which proves his great analytical and computing skills. He was a passionate learner and was interested in many subjects like physics, economics, statistics, history etc., apart from mathematics. He was a prominent member of the Manhattan Project and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His unusual abilities astonished many great personalities like mathematician Jean Dieudonne Peter Lax, Hans Bethe etc. Hans Bethe once said, “I have sometimes wondered whether a brain like von Neumann’s does not indicate a species superior to that of man”. Read through this biography to know more about the career and life of this genius.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) continues to honor John von Neumann through the presentation of an annual award in his name. The IEEE John von Neumann Medal was established by the Board of Directors in 1990 and may be presented annually “for outstanding achievements in computer-related science and technology.” The achievements may be theoretical, technological, or entrepreneurial, and  need not have been made immediately prior to the date of the award.


      Von Neumann’s interest in computers differed from that of his peers by his quickly perceiving the application of computers to applied mathematics for specific problems, rather than their mere application to the development of tables. During the war, von Neumann’s expertise in hydrodynamics, ballistics, meteorology, game theory, and statistics, was put to good use in several projects. This work led him to consider the use of mechanical devices for computation, and although the stories about von Neumann imply that his first computer encounter was with the ENIAC, in fact it was with Howard Aiken’s Harvard Mark I (ASCC) calculator.


Quantum Mechanics

After receiving his degrees in 1926, Neumann attended the university in Gottingen, Germany, where he dealt with quantum mechanics. He was creative and an original thinker, and came up with complete and logical concepts. He worked on the theories of quantum mechanics in 1926 to reconcile and improve them. Neumann worked to find out the similarities between wave mechanics and matrix mechanics. Also, von Neumann worked on the rules of ‘abstract Hilbert space’ and devised a mathematical structure in terms of quantum theory.

Notable Contributions

Neumann contributed to the Los Alamos project devised by the American government in the development of the nuclear weapons and also in developing the concept and design of explosive lenses. The mathematical modelling which he used at Los Alamos helped him in the development of the modern computer. Along with gathering resources, he also funded the project for the development of the modern computer. He worked on the architecture of the computer as well. His efforts made other scientists realize that computer is not just a ‘bigger calculator’. Quantum logic, game theory, linear programming and mathematical statistics are some of the many contributions he had made to the field of science.