Nahin, Paul J. 1940-

views updated

NAHIN, Paul J. 1940-

PERSONAL:

Born November 26, 1940, in Berkeley, CA; married, c. 1963; children. Education: Stanford University, B.S., 1962; California Institute of Technology, M.S., 1963; University of California at Irvine, Ph.D., 1972, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, postdoctoral studies, 1973-74. Hobbies and other interests: Video games.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Lee, NH. Office—Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of New Hampshire, Rm. W201, Kingsbury Hall, Durham, NH 03824; fax: 603-862-1832. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Mathematician, physicist, electrical engineer, educator, and writer. University of New Hampshire, Durham, faculty member, currently professor in electrical and computer engineering, 1975—;. Also taught at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, (one year), and the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, (one year), George Washington University, Washington, DC, (two years), Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA, (two years). Industrial work includes Beckman Instruments Fullerton, CA, digital design (three years); Hughes Aircraft, Fullerton, CA, digital and radar system design and analysis (five years); Institute for Defense Analyses and the Center for Naval Analyses, Arlington, VA, military systems analyst (two years).

WRITINGS:

Oliver Heaviside, Sage in Solitude: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age, IEEE Press (New York, NY), 1987, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2002.

Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction, American Institute of Physics (New York, NY), 1993.

The Science of Radio, AIP Press (Woodbury, NY), 1995, 2nd edition published as The Science of Radio: With MATLAB and Electronics Workbench Demonstrations, 2001.

Time Travel, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 1997.

An Imaginary Tale: The Story of the Square Root of Minus One, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1998.

Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2000.

When Least Is Best: How Mathematicians Discovered Many Clever Ways to Make Things As Small (or As Large) As Possible, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2004.

Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula: Cures Many Mathematical Ills, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Paul J. Nahin is an electrical engineer whose wide-ranging interests include physics and mathematics of noncausal systems, history of mathematics, technology and science, and the philosophy of science. He is also a writer of science-fiction short stories and several books focusing on mathematics and science. In an interview on the Powells.com Web site, the author noted that he enjoyed all aspects of writing, especially the research. When asked to name his favorite book as a child, he replied: "That's easy—The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. The final passage is, I think, one of the most romantic, moving passages in the English language. It was certainly the inspiration behind one of my earlier science books … Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction."

In his book An Imaginary Tale: The Story of the Square Root of Minus One, Nahin provides an historical examination of this essential equation in mathematics. He discusses the number's use in the past and today and the people who first solved the mathematical equation. Isis contributor Ernest Zebrowski, Jr., referred to An Imaginary Tale as an "intellectual history of imaginary numbers," adding that the "focus, in fact, is hardly on mathematical manipulation itself, but, rather, on how minds of the past have grappled with the meaning of the curious [square root of-1]." Writing in Science, Victor J. Katz noted that "the author tells this story with much grace, wit, and charm." Katz went on to comment that the book "is marvelous reading and hard to put down. Readers will find that Nahin has cleared up many of the mysteries surrounding the use of complex numbers."

Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers focuses on various mathematical probability problems, such as, what is the chance that first shooter will win in a duel in which each person takes a turn firing one shot. The author presents various problems and then gives their solutions. In a review of Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "Those solutions, in turn, lead readers into neat concepts from higher mathematics." The reviewer went on to comment that the book has "a far better than even chance of fascinating and preoccupying the mathematically literate readership."

Nahin returns to puzzling mathematical problems in When Least Is Best: How Mathematicians Discovered Many Clever Ways to Make Things As Small (or As Large) As Possible. Through a series of classical mathematical minimization problems or questions—such as "How can a disoriented person find his or her car in the least amount of time?"—the author discusses geography and algebra beginning on the high school level and then moving onto more complex studies. He also provides a look at the wisdom of ancient mathematicians. Bryce Christensen, writing in Booklist, noted that the author "delivers maximal mathematical enjoyment with minimal perplexity and boredom." A Science News contributor wrote: "Nahin … has a knack for delving into intriguing mathematics."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Scientist, November-December 1998, William Thompson, review of An Imaginary Tale: The Story of the Square Root of Minus One, p. 584.

American Statistician, August, 2003, Richard J. Cleary, review of Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, p. 218.

Booklist, December 1, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of When Least Is Best: How Mathematicians Discovered Many Clever Ways to Make Things As Small (or As Large) As Possible, p. 642.

Isis, March, 2001, Ernest Zebrowski, Jr., review of An Imaginary Tale, p. 129.

Publishers Weekly, October 2, 2000, review of Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, p. 71.

Science, January, 22, 1999, Victor J. Katz, review of An Imaginary Tale, p. 494.

Science News, September 7, 2002, review of Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, p. 159; February 28, 2004, review of When Least Is Best, p. 143.

Skeptical Inquirer, November-December, 2002, Kendrick Frazier, review of Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, p. 54.

ONLINE

Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (September 29, 2006), "Paul Nahin."

University of New Hampshire, Electrical and Computer Engineering Web site,http://www.ece.unh.edu/ (September 29, 2006), faculty profile of author.*