American Computer Scientist and Mathematician 1938–
Donald Ervin Knuth is considered one of the world's leading computer scientists and mathematicians. Yet in high school, Knuth found mathematics uninspiring. Although he achieved the highest grade-point average in the history of his high school, Knuth doubted his ability to succeed in college mathematics; and so did his advisor. So when Knuth graduated from high school in 1956, he entered the Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve) in Cleveland, Ohio, on a physics scholarship.
In his freshman year, Knuth encountered Paul Guenther, a mathematics professor who persuaded him to switch majors from physics to mathematics. Fearing he would fail, Knuth spent hours working out extra calculus problems, only to discover that his abilities far exceeded those of his classmates. One particularly difficult professor assigned a special problem and offered an immediate "A" in the course to any student who could solve it. Although Knuth initially considered the problem unsolvable, he did not give up. Making another attempt one day, Knuth solved the problem, earned his "A," and skipped class for the rest of the semester. The following year, Knuth earned an "A" in abstract mathematics and was given the job of grading papers for the very course he had skipped.
Knuth graduated summa cum laude from Case in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Master of Science (M.S.) in mathematics. He went on to earn his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1963, and joined the faculty as an assistant professor of mathematics. In 1968 Knuth joined the faculty at Stanford University, and served until his retirement in 1993, after which he was designated Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming.
Knuth's awards and honors include 17 books, more than 150 papers, 18 honorary doctorates, the 1974 Turing Award, Stanford University's first chair in computer science, the 1979 National Medal of Science (which was presented by then-President Jimmy Carter), and the 1996 Kyoto Prize for
lifetime achievement in the arts and sciences (awarded by the Inawori Foundation).
Albers, Donald J., and Gerald. L. Alexanderson, eds. Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews. Boston: Birkhäuser, 1985.
Knuth, Donald E. The Art of Computer Programming. 3 vols. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1968.
Shasha, Dennis, and Cathy Lazere. Out of Their Mind: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1995.
"Donald Knuth's Home Page." 2001. <http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth>.
NOT SO MAD AFTER ALL
Donald Knuth's prolific publishing career began at Milwaukee Lutheran High School where his science project won honorable mention in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. His project, titled "Portzebie System of Weights and Measures," was defined as the thickness of MAD Magazine No. 26, and the basic unit of power was called the "whatmeworry." The editors of MAD recognized the importance of Donald's work. They purchased the piece for $25 and published it in their June 1957 edition.