Math Expert, ‘Game of Life’ inventor, to lecture at WFU

The Wake Forest University Department of Mathematics will present the annual Ivey and Nell Gentry Lectureship with world-renowned math expert and game inventor John Conway on March 16.

The Gentry lecture includes two free public lectures. The first, which is intended for people with a strong mathematics background, is titled “Some Things You Can’t Hear the Shape Of.” It will be held at 11 a.m. in Calloway Hall West, Room 16.

The second lecture, “From Elementary Particles to Free Will,” which is geared toward a general audience, will be held at 6 p.m. in Winston Hall, Room 126. In this lecture, which will focus on the paradox of particles and free will, Conway suggests that free will is somehow derived from the simpler kind of free will that particles have.

A professor of finite math at Princeton University, Conway is a mathematician famous for his lively lectures and extraordinary personality. His lectures have been described as “brilliant, memorable and given by a great showman.”

Conway’s interest in mathematics began at an early age, and according to his mother, he could recite the powers of two at age four. As an adult, he memorized pi up to one thousand places.

While researching number theory under the supervision of eminent number theorist Harold Davenport, Conway made his first mark in mathematics when he solved the problem that every integer can be written as the sum of 37 numbers, each raised to the fifth power.

But Conway’s mathematical career was transformed after he became interested in symmetry groups and discovered a rare simple group of order that was so important he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. As a Fellow, Conway signed his name in a book with all other past Society members, including Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

However, it was with the invention and instant success of the Game of Life, a computer solitaire game of simulated births, deaths and survival, that Conway became a household name. According to an article on Conway written by J.J. O’Connor and E.F. Robertson, since 1970 more computer time worldwide has been devoted to the Game of Life than any other single activity.

Conway has a doctorate from Cambridge and has been the recipient of the Polya Prize of the London Mathematical Society and the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics from Northwestern University, an award recognizing outstanding achievement in his discipline and major contributions to new knowledge.

The Gentry Lectureship, which brings outstanding mathematic scholars to campus, was established in 1986 to honor Ivey Gentry, former Wake Forest professor and chair of the department of mathematics, and his wife, Nell, for their contributions to the university’s mathematics department.

For more information, call 336-758-5354.

Categories: Events, Speakers