Posts Tagged ‘Mathematicians’

Monday Morning Math: Elbert Frank Cox

January 17, 2022

Our Monday morning mathematician is Elbert Frank Cox, the first African-American to receive a PhD in Mathematics.

Elbert Frank Cox was born on December 5, 1895, in Evansville, Indiana.  He was adept in music as well as mathematics and was offered a scholarship to the Prague Conservatory of Music to play violin, but he chose to attend Indiana University to study mathematics; he earned an A in every math class.  He served in France during World War I, then returned to the US and taught (following in the footsteps of his own father, who was teacher and principal of the Third Avenue School).

Cox joined the graduate program at Cornell University, and in 1925 earned his PhD in mathematics: his thesis was entitled “The Polynomial Solutions of the Difference Equation aF(x+1) + bF(x) = Phi(x)”  He taught at West Virginia State College for four years before taking a position at Howard University.  Talitha Washington writes, “In those days many Black scholars migrated to Howard University. In 1929 Cox joined the faculty, and by 1943, Howard University employed five of the eight Black math Ph.D.’s.”  

During the thirty-seven years that Cox was at Howard University he published another paper, directed Masters’ Students (more than any other faculty), and served as department Chair.  Harris notes,

Although the professional societies had African-American members, it was difficult and unpleasant for them to attend meetings, especially as they were frequently not permitted to attend social events or to lodge at the hotels and convention centers where the meetings were held, [James Donaldson] wrote [in A Century of Mathematics in America by the AMS]. Cox allowed his membership in the AMS to lapse shortly after becoming the organization’s first African-American member in 1925, and did not renew it again until 1948. However, he held a membership in Beta Kappa Chi, a black scientific fraternity, which allowed him to maintain contact with the scientific community.

Elbert Cox married Belulah Kaufman (while he was teaching in West Virginia) and they had four children.  Cox passed away in 1969, three years after retiring from Howard University, but his name lives on through honors such as the Elbert F. Cox Scholarship Fund at Howard University and the Cox-Talbot Address, an annual lecture of the National Association of Mathematicians.


Monday Morning Math: Mary Jackson

December 13, 2021

Before we begin, the fall semester is coming to a close here at Naz (we’re right in the middle of finals) so this will be the last Monday Morning Math for…about a month.  We’ll resume on January 17, when the spring semester begins. 

Mary Winston-Jackson was born on April 9, 1921 in Hampton, Virginia. She loved science and shared her love with the Science Club at the Hampton’s King Street Community Center by assisting in the building of and experiments with a wind tunnel. She spent many years as a Girl Scout Leader and tutor for high school and college students.  After graduating from the Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences, she worked in several different careers before taking a job at NASA as part of the West Area Computing unit under the supervision of Dorothy Vaughn in 1951. 

After two years as a computer, Mary Jackson was offered a position in 1953 working for NASA engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki. After seeing her potential, Czarnecki suggested that Mary become an engineer and as such Mary had to seek special permission to enter the night program at a segregated school to attend graduate level classes. She completed the courses and she was promoted to become NASA’s first female engineer in 1958.

She retired from NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1985 and died on February 11, 2005. While at NASA, Mary Jackson earned the most senior title in the engineering department. In 1979, she opted to take a demotion so she could work as an administrator of NASA’s Equal Opportunity Specialist field. As such, Mary Jackson worked to make changes and highlight women and minorities in the engineering field at NASA, for which she was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2019. NASA renamed their headquarters in Washington, D.C. the “Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters” in February 2021.  Mary Jackson was featured in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures and portrayed in the film based on the book by Janelle Monáe.


Written by Tracy Lyn Lause

Monday Morning Math: Adolphe Quetelet

October 25, 2021

Adolphe Quetelet (pronounced Ket-eh-lay) was a Flemish Scientist who was the first to use the normal curve.

Born in Ghent, France in1796, Adolphe’s father died when he was just seven years old. At the age of 17, after his own schooling at Lyceum in Ghent where he excelled in mathematics, he took a job teaching mathematics at a school in 1813 to support his family. He was appointed a mathematics instructor at the College in Ghent in 1815 at the age of 19.

While at the College of Ghent, Adolphe was influenced by Garnier who encouraged Quetelet’s deeper studies in mathematics. He went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Ghent in 1819 with a dissertation on conic sections. After graduating and at the age of 23, he was appointed chair of elementary mathematics at the Athenaeum in Brussels. While he taught mathematics, Quetelet had a strong interest in astrology and lobbied for an observatory in Brussels. While visiting Paris on a fact-finding mission for the observatory, Quetelet learned the importance of statistical methods in astronomy.

As a result of his “zeal for statistics,” Quetelet identified society as a topic and studied and wrote papers on social statistics and in the course of that work was the first to use the normal curve/distribution and used what astronomers knew as the error law or bell curve on human populations. He also introduced the height/weight measure that we know today as the body mass index (BMI). He used the idea of an average as a central value. He collected statistics on crime and mortality and improved census taking for the government.

In 1855 Quetelet suffered a moderate stroke and never fully recovered suffering from a poor memory which negatively impacted his writings. Quetelet died in 1874.


Compiled by Tracy Lyn Lause

Monday Morning Math: Florence Nightingale

October 18, 2021

The mathematician this week is Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). WHAT??? Yes, she is most known for being a nurse, but many do not realize that Florence Nightingale was also a mathematician and data collector and is known to be one of the most prominent statisticians in history. Quite something for a woman in the 1850s.

Born in 1820 to wealthy parents, as a child, her father fostered her education in history, philosophy and literature, but she was gifted in math and the languages. Florence Nightingale was grounded in her religious beliefs and said she was “called by God” to “reduce human suffering” and as such pursued a career in nursing.

It was as a nurse during the Crimean War (1853-1856) in the Scutari, Turkey Barrack Hospital in 1856 that she collected data on the care of the wounded soldiers, recording information about how the soldiers died and “bringing order and method to the hospital’s statistical records.” The analysis of this data prompted Florence Nightingale to demand better care and more food and supplies for the soldiers in the hospital as well as the implementation of better hygiene and cleaning procedures. Florence Nightingale used her data to show the need for standards of care and “her accomplishments reduced the mortality rate to about 2 percent.”

Thus, it is said “her work in statistics saved lives.” She also earned the title “the Lady with the Lamp” from the soldiers for whom she cared since she made rounds in the evenings carrying a lamp through the hallways.

Florence Nightingale is credited with being an innovator in displaying statistical data through graphs (infographics). She uses a Coxcomb graph or Rose Chart (similar to a pie chart) in 1858 to illustrate the improvements to the mortality rate of soldiers in the hospital after her cleaning and sanitation procedures were adopted. Two years after returning from Crimea, Florence Nightingale was elected the first female member of the Statistical Society in 1858.


This post was generously written by our own Tracy Lyn Lause. Thanks Tracy!

Monday Morning Math: Ada Lovelace

September 27, 2021

Our Mathematician this week is Augusta Ada Byron, also known as Ada Lovelace.  She was born in London, England, on December 10, 1815, the daughter of the mathematically-inclined Anne Isabelle Milbanke and the poet George Gordon Byron (known more commonly as Lord Byron).  Her parents separated when she was a baby, and she was raised by her mother, who encouraged her in mathematics:

Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies. But Ada’s complex inheritance became apparent as early as 1828, when she produced the design for a flying machine. It was mathematics that gave her life its wings.

From ScienceWomen

When Ada was 17 she met Charles Babbage at a party, and he talked about his Difference Machine, a (very) early version of a computer.  Ada and Charles exchanged letters for nearly 20 years, throughout Ada’s marriage to William King, the Earl of Lovelace, and the birth of her children Byron, Anne Isabella, and Ralph Gordon.  After  a mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea published an article about another of Babbage’s inventions, the Analytic machine, Ada translated the article from French to English, including notes of her own that were longer than the original article:

Her translation, along with her notes, was published in 1843, and represent her greatest contribution to computer science: she described with clarity how Babbage’s device would work, illuminating its foundations in the Jacquard loom. Just as Joseph-Marie Jacquard’s silk-weaving machine could automatically create images using a chain of punched cards, so too could Babbage’s system—the engine, Lovelace explained, weaved algebraic patterns. She also wrote how it might perform a particular calculation: Note G, as it is known, set out a detailed plan for the punched cards to weave a long sequence of Bernoulli numbers, and is considered to be the first computer program. 

From The New Yorker

Ada died of cancer on November 27, 1852, when she was only 37 years old, and the computer language Ada is named in her honor

Like podcasts?  Then I recommend this episode about Ada Lovelace from The History Chicks.

Like biographies?  During Hispanic Heritage month the website Lathisms is publishing a biography every day of a Hispanic/Latinx mathematician.  Lathisms was founded in 2016 by Alexander Diaz-Lopez, Pamela E. Harris, Prieto-Langarica, and Gabriel Sosa.

Monday Morning Math: Alberto Pedro Calderón

September 20, 2021

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Monday Morning Math! Every Monday Morning during the semester we’ll be posting some information about a mathematician, or some fun math. (For us it is, admittedly, a nice way to say Hello! to the blog again, which has not had many posts lately [*cough* understatement *cough*].

Our first mathematician is Alberto Pedro Calderón.  He was born on September 14, 1920, in Mendoza, Argentina, and worked as an engineer before earning a PhD in mathematics.  This early engineering seems to have stuck with him:

[His] revolutionary influence turned the 1950s trend toward abstract mathematics back to the study of mathematics for practical applications in physics, geometry, calculus, and many other branches of this field. His award-winning research in the area of integral operators is an example of his impact on contemporary mathematical analysis. 

(From yourdictionary)

The prizes mentioned above include the Wolf Prize (“for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples”) and the National Medal of Sciences (for “outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences.”)

One of  Calderón’s  graduate students, Carlos E. Kenig, described him in the following way:

Alberto Calderón was a very unassuming man of natural charm, a person of great elegance and restraint, and wonderful company. Mathematically Calderón was exceptional not only for the strength of his talent but for his peculiar way of grasping mathematics. He redid whole theories by himself, got to the core of what he wanted to know by himself, found always his own way. His ideas and the methods he developed were always extremely original and powerful.

(From the AMS Notices)

Alberto Pedro Calderón passed away on April 16, 1998, in Chicago, Illinois.  A biography at the University of Chicago noted:

Calderón is survived by his wife, noted mathematician Alexandra Bellow (née Bagdasar), recently retired from Northwestern University, whom he married in 1989; and two children from his first marriage, Mary Josephine, of St. Charles, Ill., and Pablo, of New York, N.Y.His first wife, Mabel (née Molinelli Wells), to whom he was married for 35 years, died in 1985.

From the biography

Don’t want to wait a whole other week before reading about another mathematician?  The website Lathisms (Latinx and Hispanics in the Mathematical Sciences) is posting a biography every day during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15-Oct 15)