04/06/2015

I'm ashamed that I knew so little about...

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This post will not be related to programming. I want to write about something that I've read about recently. I think that it's extremely interesting. Besides it is important for me. I'm talking about Lvov school of mathematics, a group of brilliant Polish mathematicians who worked in Lvov before World War II and had a great impact on contemporary mathematic. You may be surprised that even famous people like John von Neumann visited Lvov in order to talk with them.

Have you heard about them? If you come from Poland there is a chance that you heard although it is not very well know topic. And it is a pity because Polish people should be proud because of their achievements. If you are not from Poland there is a bigger chance that you heard about people like Stefan Banach, Stanisław Ulam or Hugo Steinhaus. Just to mention 3 mathematicians who were a part of Lvov school of mathematics.

These were very special people. Stefan Banach established very important part of mathematic known as functional analysis, was the author of many theorems (e.g. Banach space), has his own planetoid 16856. He had written his PhD thesis within 6 months and after that he needed only 7 years to become a professor. I'm pretty sure that every mathematician knows his name.

Stanisław Ulam had took part in Project Manhattan and then worked on the hydrogen bomb. In the 40s wrote one of the first (if not the first) program playing chess. He also proposed Monte Carlo method. When Kennedy became a president in 1960 Ulam as an advisor was asked which important project should be started. He suggested an expedition to the moon what Kennedy approved!

Hugo Steinhaus did so many things that I don't know what to choose. He "discovered" Stefan Banach so without him Lvov school of mathematics could have never been created. He invented introwizor, ancestor of modern computed tomography, which was patented in many countries in Europe and in USA. One of his books Mathematical Snapshots, that was originally published in 1938, is still available on Amazon! He also worked on game theory. You can say that many people did it. However, Steinhaus had done so 20 years before someone used this term.

I'll stop now because I could write and write about them. Instead I'll cite 2 short anecdotes that show that these were really extraordinary people (based on Genialni. Lwowska szkoła matematyczna by Mariusz Urbanek, unfortunately available only in Polish).

Stefan Banach has never finished his studies, he didn't like bureaucracy, formalisms and official titles. Because of that he had a problem with his PhD. It wasn't important for him. He wanted to focus on mathematics. His friends decided to cheat him a little bit and one day they told him that some important people frrm the capital have a few questions and only he can help. He didn't have any problems to answer all these questions, but he didn't know that it was his examination for the degree of doctor ;) Thanks to this small fraud he received PhD title.

In Lvov there was a restaurant "Szkocka" ("Scotch") and mathematicians like to spend there a lot of time of course at talking about mathematics. Noise and bustle didn't bother them. They also had a habit to write down proofs and theorems on the table with a pencil. The problem was that on the next day tables were cleaned and all the work was lost. To solve a problem the owner of the restaurant was asked to set this table aside and not to clean it until everything will be transferred to paper. This was a task of students.

I hope that I convinced you that you should at least know what is Lvov school of mathematics (especially if you come from Poland or if you are mathematician). Personally, I'm ashamed that I knew so little about it before.

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