George “György” Pólya

(b. 12/13/1887 Budapest, d. 9/7/1985 Palo Alto, California)

Born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Polya worked in probability, analysis, number theory, geometry, combinatorics and mathematical physics. He left Hungary for Brown University for two years and later took up an appointment at Stanford. He enjoyed the esteem of the mathematical community not only for his deep and influential contributions in a variety of mathematical fields, but also for his groundbreaking work in the teaching of mathematics. His standing in the latter area could rest solely on his having written one of the most widely read books in mathematics, the still-popular How to Solve It. Various other books were almost equally influential, however: Mathematical Discovery and Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning, to name but two.

In addition to his championing problem-solving, he contributed to mathematics important results in complex and real analysis, inequalities, mathematical physics, combinatorics, probability theory, number theory and geometry. He coined the phrases “random walk” and “central limit theorem” and gave to mathematics the Pólya Enumeration Theorem, along with many other ideas used widely today.

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