John von Neumann (1903-1957)

The brilliant Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann contributed to numerous aspects of applied and theoretical science and also played a crucial role in the development of the atomic bomb.

He was born in Budapest, Hungary, and had an outstanding educational career, making important contributions to the development of quantum mechanics in Budapest, Berlin and Zurich. Von Neumann and his family emigrated to the United States in 1930, and he was recruited as a mathematics professor at the elite Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1933. He continued to work there until his death. His wide-ranging research interests included the mathematical theories of statistics, dynamics, game theory, computing and economics.

Von Neumann later took an interest in the mathematic theory of explosions and worked as a consultant for several US government agencies. During the Second World War he became involved with the Manhattan Project and worked on the plutonium ‘Fat Man’ bomb programme at Los Alamos. This device was eventually detonated above the Japanese city of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. After the war he contributed to research relating to the hydrogen bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles. He also advised on US military and science policy in the years shortly before his death.