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Alfréd Rényi

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30 March 1921

Budapest, Hungary

1 Feb 1970

Budapest, Hungary

Alfréd Rényi received a literary, rather than scientific, schooling. In 1944 he was forced to a Fascist Labour Camp but somehow managed to escape. He obtained false papers and hid for six months avoiding capture. During this time his parents were held prisoners in the Budapest ghetto. Alfréd rescued them with an extreme act of bravery:

Alfréd got hold of a soldier's uniform, walked into the ghetto, and marched his parents out. ... It requires familiarity with the circumstances to appreciate the skill and courage needed to perform these feats.

At the end of World War II, Rényi obtained a Ph.D. at Szeged under F Riesz for work on Cauchy - Fourier series. He was taught by Fejér at Budapest, then he went to Russia and worked with Linnik on the theory of numbers, in particular working on the Goldbach conjecture . He discovered methods described by Turán as

at present one of the strongest methods of analytical number theory .

After returning to Hungary he worked on probability which was to be his main research topic throughout his life.

He published joint work with Erdös on random graphs and also considered random space filling curves. Known by the nickname of Buba, he is best remembered for proving that every even integer is the sum of a prime and an almost prime number (one with only two prime factors), he is also remembered as the author of the anecdote

a mathematician is a machine for converting coffee into theorems

Turán developed the anecdote by describing weak coffee as fit only for lemmas.

Rényi was the founder, and for 20 years the director, of the Mathematical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences . He was a famous raconteur remembered for many performances of his dialogue, which he spoke with his daughter, on the nature of mathematics.

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland