Biography:George Pólya

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Short description: Hungarian mathematician (1887–1985)
George Pólya
ETH-BIB-Polya, Georg (1887-1985)-Portrait-Portr 13887-19-AL.tif
George Pólya, before 1935
György Pólya

(1887-12-13)December 13, 1887
DiedSeptember 7, 1985(1985-09-07) (aged 97)
Palo Alto, California , U.S.
Swiss (1918–1947)
American (1947–)[1]
Alma materEötvös Loránd University
Known forPólya–Szegő inequality
How to Solve It
Multivariate Pólya distribution
Pólya conjecture
Pólya enumeration theorem
Landau–Kolmogorov inequality
Pólya–Vinogradov inequality
Pólya inequality
Pólya–Aeppli distribution
Pólya urn model
Fueter–Pólya theorem
Hilbert–Pólya conjecture
Jordan–Pólya numbers
Scientific career
InstitutionsETH Zürich
Stanford University
Doctoral advisorLipót Fejér
Doctoral studentsAlbert Edrei (de)
Hans Einstein
Fritz Gassmann
Albert Pfluger
Walter Saxer (de)
James J. Stoker
Alice Roth

George Pólya (/ˈpljə/; Hungarian: Pólya György, pronounced [ˈpoːjɒ ˈɟørɟ]; December 13, 1887 – September 7, 1985) was a Hungarian American mathematician. He was a professor of mathematics from 1914 to 1940 at ETH Zürich and from 1940 to 1953 at Stanford University. He made fundamental contributions to combinatorics, number theory, numerical analysis and probability theory. He is also noted for his work in heuristics and mathematics education.[2] He has been described as one of The Martians,[3] an informal category which included one of his most famous students at ETH Zurich, John von Neumann.

Life and works

Pólya was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, to Anna Deutsch and Jakab Pólya, Hungarian Jews who had converted to Christianity in 1886.[4] Although his parents were religious and he was baptized into the Catholic Church upon birth, George eventually grew up to be an agnostic.[5] He received a PhD under Lipót Fejér in 1912, at Eötvös Loránd University.[6] He was a professor of mathematics from 1914 to 1940 at ETH Zürich in Switzerland and from 1940 to 1953 at Stanford University. He remained a Professor Emeritus at Stanford for the rest of his career, working on a range of mathematical topics, including series, number theory, mathematical analysis, geometry, algebra, combinatorics, and probability.[7] He was invited to speak at the ICM at Bologna in 1928,[8] at Oslo in 1936 and at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1950.

On September 7, 1985, Pólya died in Palo Alto, California, United States .[9] He passed due to complications of a stroke he suffered in the past summer.


Early in his career, Pólya wrote with Gábor Szegő two influential problem books, Problems and Theorems in Analysis (I: Series, Integral Calculus, Theory of Functions and II: Theory of Functions. Zeros. Polynomials. Determinants. Number Theory. Geometry). Later in his career, he spent considerable effort to identify systematic methods of problem-solving to further discovery and invention in mathematics for students, teachers, and researchers.[10] He wrote five books on the subject: How to Solve It, Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning (Volume I: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics, and Volume II: Patterns of Plausible Inference), and Mathematical Discovery: On Understanding, Learning, and Teaching Problem Solving (volumes 1 and 2).

In How to Solve It, Pólya provides general heuristics for solving a gamut of problems, including both mathematical and non-mathematical problems. The book includes advice for teaching students of mathematics and a mini-encyclopedia of heuristic terms. It was translated into several languages and has sold over a million copies. The book is still used in mathematical education. Douglas Lenat's Automated Mathematician and Eurisko artificial intelligence programs were inspired by Pólya's work.

In addition to his works directly addressing problem solving, Pólya wrote another short book called Mathematical Methods in Science, based on a 1963 work supported by the National Science Foundation edited by Leon Bowden and published by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) in 1977. As Pólya notes in the preface, Bowden carefully followed a tape recording of a course Pólya gave several times at Stanford in order to put the book together. Pólya notes in the preface "that the following pages will be useful, yet they should not be regarded as a finished expression."


There are three prizes named after Pólya, causing occasional confusion of one for another. In 1969 the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) established the George Pólya Prize, given alternately in two categories for "a notable application of combinatorial theory" and for "a notable contribution in another area of interest to George Pólya."[11]

In 1976 the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) established the George Pólya Award "for articles of expository excellence" published in the College Mathematics Journal.[12] In 1987 the London Mathematical Society (LMS) established the Pólya Prize for "outstanding creativity in, imaginative exposition of, or distinguished contribution to, mathematics within the United Kingdom."[13] In 1991, the MAA established the George Pólya Lectureship series.[14]

Stanford University has a Polya Hall named in his honor.[15]

Selected publications


  • Aufgaben und Lehrsätze aus der Analysis, 1st edn. 1925.[16] ("Problems and theorems in analysis“). Springer, Berlin 1975 (with Gábor Szegő).
  1. Reihen. 1975, 4th edn., ISBN:3-540-04874-X.
  2. Funktionentheorie, Nullstellen, Polynome, Determinanten, Zahlentheorie. 1975, 4th edn., ISBN:3-540-05456-1.
  • Mathematik und plausibles Schliessen. Birkhäuser, Basel 1988,
  1. Induktion und Analogie in der Mathematik, 3rd edn., ISBN:3-7643-1986-0 (Wissenschaft und Kultur; 14).
  2. Typen und Strukturen plausibler Folgerung, 2nd edn., ISBN:3-7643-0715-3 (Wissenschaft und Kultur; 15).
  • – English translation: Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning, Princeton University Press 1954, 2 volumes (Vol. 1: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics, Vol. 2: Patterns of Plausible Inference)
  • Schule des Denkens. Vom Lösen mathematischer Probleme ("How to solve it“). 4th edn. Francke Verlag, Tübingen 1995, ISBN:3-7720-0608-6 (Sammlung Dalp).
  • – English translation: How to Solve It, Princeton University Press 2004 (with foreword by John Horton Conway and added exercises)
  • Vom Lösen mathematischer Aufgaben. 2nd edn. Birkhäuser, Basel 1983, ISBN:3-7643-0298-4 (Wissenschaft und Kultur; 21).
  • – English translation: Mathematical Discovery: On Understanding, Learning and Teaching Problem Solving, 2 volumes, Wiley 1962 (published in one vol. 1981)
  • Collected Papers, 4 volumes, MIT Press 1974 (ed. Ralph P. Boas). Vol. 1: Singularities of Analytic Functions, Vol. 2: Location of Zeros, Vol. 3: Analysis, Vol. 4: Probability, Combinatorics
  • with R. C. Read: Combinatorial enumeration of groups, graphs, and chemical compounds, Springer Verlag 1987 (English translation of Kombinatorische Anzahlbestimmungen für Gruppen, Graphen und chemische Verbindungen, Acta Mathematica, vol. 68, 1937, pp. 145–254)
  • with Godfrey Harold Hardy: John Edensor Littlewood Inequalities, Cambridge University Press 1934
  • Mathematical Methods in Science, MAA, Washington D. C. 1977 (ed. Leon Bowden)
  • with Gordon Latta: Complex Variables, Wiley 1974
  • with Robert E. Tarjan, Donald R. Woods: Notes on introductory combinatorics, Birkhäuser 1983
  • with Jeremy Kilpatrick: The Stanford mathematics problem book: with hints and solutions, New York: Teachers College Press 1974
  • with several co-authors: Applied combinatorial mathematics, Wiley 1964 (ed. Edwin F. Beckenbach)
  • with Gábor Szegő: Isoperimetric inequalities in mathematical physics, Princeton, Annals of Mathematical Studies 27, 1951


See also


  1. George Polya in the Swiss historic lexicon.
  2. Alexanderson, Gerald L. (2000). The random walks of George Pólya. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America. ISBN 9780883855287. 
  3. Marx, György (March 1997). "A marslakók legendája". 
  4. "Polya biography". 
  5. Harold D. Taylor, Loretta Taylor (1993). George Pólya: master of discovery 1887–1985. Dale Seymour Publications. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-86651-611-2. "Plancherel was a military man, a colonel in the Swiss army, and a devout Catholic; Pólya did not like military ceremonies or activities, and he was an agnostic who objected to hierarchical religions." 
  6. "George Pólya". 
  7. Roberts, A. Wayne (1995). Faces of Mathematics, Third Edition. New York, NY USA: HarperCollins College Publishers. pp. 479. ISBN 0-06-501069-8. 
  8. Pólya, G.. "Ueber eine Eigenschaft des Gaussschen Fehlergesetzes". In: Atti del Congresso Internazionale dei Matematici: Bologna del 3 al 10 de settembre di 1928. 6. pp. 63–64. 
  9. Dembart, Lee (1985-09-08). "George Polya, 97, Dean of Mathematicians, Dies" (in en-US). 
  10. Schoenfeld, Alan H. (December 1987). "Pólya, Problem Solving, and Education". Mathematics Magazine (Mathematics Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 5) 60 (5): 283–291. doi:10.2307/2690409. 
  11. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics George Pólya Prize
  12. Mathematical Association of America George Pólya Award
  13. "London Mathematical Society Polya Prize". 
  14. "Pólya Lectures". 
  15. "POLYA HALL, 14-160". 
  16. Tamarkin, J. D. (1928). "Review: Aufgaben und Lehrsätze aus der Analysis, vols. 1 & 2, by George Pólya and Gábor Szegő". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 34 (2): 233–234. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1928-04522-6. 

External links