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John Kemeny: Mathematician

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JOHN KEMENY: MATHEMATICIAN

John Kemeny was born on May 13, 1926, in Budapest Hungary. He attended primary school in Budapest. He came from a Jewish family and in 1940, due to the Holocaust, Kemeny's father moved the family to the U.S. Kemeny's family moved to New York, and John attended school in New York City. He attended Princeton University where he studied mathematics and philosophy. He took a year off during his undergraduate course to work on the Manhattan project in Los Alamos. John's boss was Richard Feynman and he also worked with Von Neumann.

He returned to Princeton, and graduated with a B.A. in 1947. He then worked for his doctorate under the supervision of Alonzo Church. Kemeny received his doctorate in 1949 for a dissertation entitled Type-Theory vs. Set-Theory. He was appointed as Albert Einstein's mathematical assistant while he was still a doctoral student. John continued to study both mathematics and philosophy, and became a professor of philosophy at Princeton in 1951. In 1953 he was appointed to the mathematics department at Dartmouth, and in two years he became chairman of the department. He held his position until 1967. He was president of Dartmouth between 1970, 1981, and 1982. He soon returned to be a full-time teacher.

Kemeny co-invented the Basic(Beginners All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) computer code. It was in 1963 that John and Thomas Kurtz decided that they wanted to give students easy access to computing. They designed the first system so that many students could use a single computer at the same time. It was designed to allow students to write programs easily. The first Basic program was run at Dartmouth at 2am on May 4, 1964. Kemeny also introduced a new teaching innovation. He developed a Finite mathematics course including topics that we still use today. Some of the topics were logic, probability and matrix algebra. He designed it because he was unhappy with the mathematic courses that were not up to date.

Kemeny receive many awards for his work. He was given the New York Academy of Sciences Award in 1984. In 1986 he receive the Institute of Electrical Engineers Computer Medal. The Louis Robinson Award was also given to him in 1990. John received twenty honorary degrees for his work. John Kemeny died on December 26, 1992 in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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