Biography:Stephen Wolfram

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Short description: British-American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, writer and businessman (born 1959)
Stephen Wolfram
Stephen Wolfram PR (cropped).jpg
Wolfram in 2008
Born (1959-08-29) 29 August 1959 (age 64)
London, England
NationalityBritish, American
EducationDragon School[1]
Eton College
Alma mater
Known for
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship (1981)
Scientific career
ThesisSome Topics in Theoretical High-Energy Physics (1980)
Doctoral advisorRichard D. Field[5]

Stephen Wolfram (/ˈwʊlfrəm/ WUUL-frəm; born 29 August 1959) is a British-American[6] computer scientist, physicist, and businessman. He is known for his work in computer science, mathematics, and theoretical physics.[7][8] In 2012, he was named a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[9]

As a businessman, he is the founder and CEO of the software company Wolfram Research where he works as chief designer of Mathematica and the Wolfram Alpha answer engine.

Early life


Stephen Wolfram was born in London in 1959 to Hugo and Sybil Wolfram, both German Jewish refugees to the United Kingdom.[10] His maternal grandmother was British psychoanalyst Kate Friedlander.

Wolfram's father, Hugo Wolfram, was a textile manufacturer and served as managing director of the Lurex Company—makers of the fabric Lurex.[11] Wolfram's mother, Sybil Wolfram, was a Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Lady Margaret Hall at University of Oxford from 1964 to 1993.[12]

Stephen Wolfram is married to a mathematician. They have four children together.[13][14]


Wolfram was educated at Eton College, but left prematurely in 1976.[15] As a young child, Wolfram had difficulties learning arithmetic.[16] He entered St. John's College, Oxford, at age 17 and left in 1978[17] without graduating[18][19] to attend the California Institute of Technology the following year, where he received a PhD[20] in particle physics in 1980.[21] Wolfram's thesis committee was composed of Richard Feynman, Peter Goldreich, Frank J. Sciulli and Steven Frautschi, and chaired by Richard D. Field.[21][22]

Early career

Wolfram, at the age of 15, began research in applied quantum field theory and particle physics and published scientific papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals including Nuclear Physics B, Australian Journal of Physics, Nuovo Cimento, and Physical Review D.[citation needed] Working independently, Wolfram published a widely cited paper on heavy quark production at age 18[2][failed verification] and nine other papers.[23] Wolfram's work with Geoffrey C. Fox on the theory of the strong interaction is still used in experimental particle physics.[citation needed]

Following his PhD, Wolfram joined the faculty at Caltech and became the youngest recipient[24] of a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, at age 21.[18]

Later career

Complex systems and cellular automata

In 1983, Wolfram left for the School of Natural Sciences of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. By that time, he was no longer interested in particle physics. Instead, he began pursuing investigations into cellular automata,[citation needed] mainly with computer simulations. He produced a series of papers systematically investigating the class of elementary cellular automata, conceiving the Wolfram code, a naming system for one-dimensional cellular automata, and a classification scheme for the complexity of their behaviour.[25] He conjectured that the Rule 110 cellular automaton might be Turing complete, which a research assistant to Wolfram, Matthew Cook, later proved correct.[26] Wolfram sued Cook and temporarily blocked publication of the work on Rule 110 for allegedly violating a non-disclosure agreement until Wolfram could publish the work in his controversial book A New Kind of Science.[2][27] Wolfram's cellular-automata work came to be cited in more than 10,000 papers.[23]

In the mid-1980s, Wolfram worked on simulations of physical processes (such as turbulent fluid flow) with cellular automata on the Connection Machine alongside Richard Feynman[28] and helped initiate the field of complex systems.[29] In 1984, he was a participant in the Founding Workshops of the Santa Fe Institute, along with Nobel laureates Murray Gell-Mann, Manfred Eigen, and Philip Warren Anderson, and future laureate Frank Wilczek.[30] In 1986, he founded the Center for Complex Systems Research (CCSR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.[31] In 1987, he founded the journal Complex Systems.[31]

Symbolic Manipulation Program

Main page: Software:Symbolic Manipulation Program

Wolfram led the development of the computer algebra system SMP (Symbolic Manipulation Program) in the Caltech physics department during 1979–1981. A dispute with the administration over the intellectual property rights regarding SMP—patents, copyright, and faculty involvement in commercial ventures—eventually led him to resign from Caltech.[32] SMP was further developed and marketed commercially by Inference Corp. of Los Angeles during 1983–1988.


Main page: Software:Mathematica

In 1986, Wolfram left the Institute for Advanced Study for the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where he had founded their Center for Complex Systems Research, and started to develop the computer algebra system Mathematica, which was first released on 23 June 1988, when he left academia. In 1987, he founded Wolfram Research, which continues to develop and market the program.[2]

A New Kind of Science

Main page: A New Kind of Science

From 1992 to 2002, Wolfram worked on his controversial book A New Kind of Science,[2][33] which presents an empirical study of simple computational systems. Additionally, it argues that for fundamental reasons these types of systems, rather than traditional mathematics, are needed to model and understand complexity in nature. Wolfram's conclusion is that the universe is discrete in its nature, and runs on fundamental laws which can be described as simple programs. He predicts that a realization of this within scientific communities will have a revolutionary influence on physics, chemistry, biology, and a majority of scientific areas in general, hence the book's title. The book was met with skepticism and criticism that Wolfram took credit for the work of others and made conclusions without evidence to support them.[34][35]

Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine

Main page: Physics:Wolfram Alpha

In March 2009, Wolfram announced Wolfram Alpha, an answer engine. WolframAlpha later launched in May 2009,[36] and a paid-for version with extra features launched in February 2012 that was met with criticism for its high price that was later dropped from $50.00 to $2.00.[37][38] The engine is based on natural language processing and a large library of rules-based algorithms. The application programming interface allows other applications to extend and enhance Wolfram Alpha.[39]


In 2010, Wolfram co-founded Touchpress along with Theodore Gray, Max Whitby, and John Cromie. The company specialised in creating in-depth premium apps and games covering a wide range of educational subjects designed for children, parents, students, and educators. Since the launch, Touchpress has published more than 100 apps.[40] The company is no longer active.

Wolfram Language

Main page: Wolfram Language

In March 2014, at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) event, Wolfram officially announced the Wolfram Language as a new general multi-paradigm programming language,[41] though it was previously available through Mathematica and not an entirely new programming language. The documentation for the language was pre-released in October 2013 to coincide with the bundling of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language on every Raspberry Pi computer with some controversy because of the proprietary nature of the Wolfram Language.[42] While the Wolfram Language has existed for over 30 years as the primary programming language used in Mathematica, it was not officially named until 2014, and is not widely used.[43][44]

Wolfram Physics Project

A spatial hypergraph

In April 2020, Wolfram announced the "Wolfram Physics Project" as an effort to reduce and explain all the laws of physics within a paradigm of a hypergraph that is transformed by minimal rewriting rules that obey the Church-Rosser property.[45][46] The effort is a continuation of the ideas he originally described in A New Kind of Science. Wolfram claims that "From an extremely simple model, we're able to reproduce special relativity, general relativity and the core results of quantum mechanics." Physicists are generally unimpressed with Wolfram's claim, and state that Wolfram's results are non-quantitative and arbitrary.[47][48]

Personal interests and activities

Wolfram has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, keystrokes made, meetings and events attended, recordings of phone calls, and even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. In the preface of A New Kind of Science, he noted that he recorded over one-hundred million keystrokes and one-hundred mouse miles. He has stated "[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives."[49]

Stephen Wolfram was involved as a scientific consultant for the 2016 film Arrival. He and his son Christopher Wolfram wrote some of the code featured on-screen, such as the code in graphics depicting an analysis of the alien logograms, for which they used the Wolfram Language.[50][51]


  • Metamathematics: Foundations & Physicalization, (2022), Wolfram Media, Inc, ASIN:B0BPN7SHN3
  • Combinators: A Centennial View (2021)
  • A Project to Find the Fundamental Theory of Physics (2020), Publisher: Wolfram Media, ISBN:978-1-57955-035-6
  • Adventures of a Computational Explorer (2019)
  • Idea Makers: Personal Perspectives on the Lives & Ideas of Some Notable People (2016)[52]
  • Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language (2015)[53]
  • Wolfram, Stephen (2002). A New Kind of Science. Champaign, IL: Wolfram Media. ISBN 1-57955-008-8. OCLC 47831356. 
  • The Mathematica Book (multiple editions)
  • Cellular Automata and Complexity: Collected Papers (1994)
  • Theory and Applications of Cellular Automata (1986)


  1. My Life in Technology—As Told at the Computer History Museum
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Giles, J. (2002). "Stephen Wolfram: What kind of science is this?". Nature 417 (6886): 216–218. doi:10.1038/417216a. PMID 12015565. Bibcode2002Natur.417..216G. 
  3. Wolfram, S. (2013). "Computer algebra". Proceedings of the 38th international symposium on International symposium on symbolic and algebraic computation – ISSAC '13. pp. 7–8. doi:10.1145/2465506.2465930. ISBN 9781450320597. 
  4. Stephen Wolfram's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (Subscription content?)
  5. Wolfram, Stephen (1980). Some topics in theoretical high-energy physics. Caltech Library (phd). California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  6. "Biographical Facts for Stephen Wolfram" (in en). 
  7. "Stephen Wolfram". Wolfram Alpha. 
  8. "Stephen Wolfram: 'I am an information pack rat'". New Scientist. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  9. List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 1 September 2013.
  10. The Universal Mind: The Evolution of Machine Intelligence and Human Psychology, Xiphias Press, 1 Sep 2016, Michael Peragine
  11. Telling a good yarn by Jenny Lunnon, Oxford Times, Thursday 21 September 2006.
  12. Kate Friedländer née Frankl (1902–1949), Psychoanalytikerinnen. Biografisches Lexikon.
  13. "Stephen Wolfram". Sunday Profile. 2009-05-31. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  14. "The Life and Times of Stephen Wolfram: Biographical Facts". 
  15. A Speech for (High-School) Graduates by Stephen Wolfram (a commencement speech for Stanford Online High School),, 9 June 2014: "You know, as it happens, I myself never officially graduated from high school, and this is actually the first high school graduation I've ever been to."
  16. PHYSICIST AWARDED 'GENIUS' PRIZE FINDS REALITY IN INVISIBLE WORLD, by GLADWIN HILL, New York Times, 24 May 1981: "When I first went to school, they thought I was behind, he says, because I didn't want to read the silly books they gave us. And I never was able to do arithmetic. It was when he got into higher mathematics, such as calculus, he says, that he realized there was an invisible world that he wanted to explore."
  17. Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell, 2009, p. 151: "In the early 1980s, Stephen Wolfram, a physicist working at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, became fascinated by cellular automata and the patterns they make. Wolfram is one of those legendary child prodigies people like to tell stories about. Born in London in 1959, Wolfram published his first physics paper at 15. Two years later, in the summer after his first year at Oxford, . . . Wolfram wrote a paper in the field of "quantum chromodynamics" that attracted the attention of Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who invited Wolfram to join his group at Caltech…"
  18. 18.0 18.1 Arndt, Michael (May 17, 2002). "Stephen Wolfram's Simple Science". BusinessWeek. Retrieved January 1, 2022. 
  19. Stephen Wolfram: 'The textbook has never interested me': The British child genius who abandoned physics to devote himself to coding and the cosmos, by Zoë Corbyn, The Guardian, Saturday 28 June 2014: "He entered Oxford University at 17 without A-levels and left around a year later without graduating. He was bored and he had been invited to cross the pond by the prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to do a PhD. "I had written a bunch of papers and so was pretty well known by that time,"" ...
  20. Stephen Wolfram at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  21. 21.0 21.1 Wolfram, Stephen (1980). Some Topics in Theoretical High-Energy Physics (PhD thesis). California Institute of Technology.
  22. Application
  23. 23.0 23.1 Levy, Steven (1 June 2002). "The Man Who Cracked The Code to Everything...". 
  24. "FOUNDATION TO SUPPORT 21 AS 'GENIUSES' FOR 5 YEARS" (in en). The New York Times. 
  25. Regis, Ed (1987). Who Got Einstein's Office: Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study, Addison-Wesley, Reading. ISBN:0201120658
  26. Cook, Matthew (2004). "Universality in Elementary Cellular Automata". Complex Systems 15 (1). ISSN 0891-2513. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  27. Martínez, Genaro J.; Seck-Tuoh-Mora, Juan C.; Chapa-Vergara, Sergio V.; Lemaitre, Christian (2020-03-03). "Brief notes and history of computing in Mexico during 50 years" (in en). International Journal of Parallel, Emergent and Distributed Systems 35 (2): 185–192. doi:10.1080/17445760.2019.1608990. ISSN 1744-5760. 
  28. W. Daniel Hillis (February 1989). "Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine". Physics Today. 
  29. "A Study in Complexity" (in en). 
  30. Pines, David (2018). Pines, David. ed. Emerging Syntheses in Science: Proceedings of the Founding Workshops of the Santa Fe Institute. Menlo Park, California: Addison-Wesley. pp. 183–190. doi:10.1201/9780429492594. ISBN 9780429492594. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 "The Man Who Cracked The Code to Everything". Wired. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  32. Kolata, G. (1983). "Caltech Torn by Dispute over Software". Science 220 (4600): 932–934. doi:10.1126/science.220.4600.932. PMID 17816011. Bibcode1983Sci...220..932K. 
  33. Wolfram, Stephen (2002). A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media. ISBN 1579550088. 
  34. "Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science". 
  35. Giles, Jim (2002-05-01). "What kind of science is this?" (in en). Nature 417 (6886): 216–218. doi:10.1038/417216a. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 12015565. Bibcode2002Natur.417..216G. 
  36. Wolfram, Stephen (5 March 2009). "Wolfram|Alpha Is Coming!". Wolfram blog. 
  37. Sorrel, Charlie. "Wolfram Alpha for iPhone Drops from $50 to $2" (in en-US). Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2022-10-17. 
  38. "Announcing Wolfram|Alpha Pro". Wolfram|Alpha blog. 
  39. Johnson, Bobbie (9 March 2009). "British search engine 'could rival Google'". The Guardian. 
  40. "Popular Science columnist earns prestigious American Chemical Society award" (in en). 
  41. Wolfram Language reference page Retrieved on 14 May 2014
  42. Shankland, Stephen. "Premium Mathematica software free on budget Raspberry Pi" (in en). 
  43. Slate's article Stephen Wolfram's New Programming Language: He Can Make The World Computable, 6 March 2014. Retrieved on 14 May 2014.
  44. "TIOBE Index" (in en-US). 
  45. "Stephen Wolfram Invites You to Solve Physics" (in en). Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2020-04-15. 
  46. "Stephen Wolfram's hypergraph project aims for a fundamental theory of physics" (in en-US). 2020-04-14. 
  47. Becker, Adam (6 May 2020). "Physicists Criticize Stephen Wolfram's 'Theory of Everything'" (in en). Scientific American. 
  48. "The Trouble With Stephen Wolfram's New 'Fundamental Theory of Physics'" (in en-us). Gizmodo. 2020. 
  49. Stephen, Wolfram. "The Personal Analytics of My Life". Wired. Retrieved 18 Oct 2016. 
  50. How Arrival's Designers Crafted a Mesmerizing Language, Margaret Rhodes, Wired, 16 November 2016.
  51. "Dissecting the alien language in 'Arrival'". 15 November 2016. 
  52. Siegfried, Tom (13 August 2016). "'Idea Makers' tackles scientific thinkers' big ideas and personal lives Human side of science emphasized in new book" (in English). Society for Science & the Public. 
  53. Stephen Wolfram Aims to Democratize His Software by Steve Lohr, The New York Times , 14 December 2015.

External links