Birthplace: London, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Mathematician, Computer Programmer
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Creator of Mathematica
As a boy, Stephen Wolfram was called a young Einstein. At 13, he earned a scholarship to Eton College. At 14, he wrote his first book on particle physics. At 17, the scientific journal Nuclear Physics published a paper he'd written. At 18, he wrote a widely-acclaimed paper on heavy quark production. At 20, he received his PhD in theoretical physics.
In his teens, Wolfram became obsessed with cellular automata -- structures governed by simple rules that can result in complex behavior. The study of cellular automata was pioneered in the 1950s by mathematicians like John Conway, whose two-dimensional Game of Life is the best-known illustration of the concept. Wolfram saw the potential for more: he thought Life-like cellular automata could be adapted to explain complex behavior in the physical world.
Only 21 years old, Wolfram was already on the faculty at Caltech, cranking out a series of papers and singlehandedly reviving interest in cellular automata. Then someone reminded him that the small print in his Caltech contract specified that the school basically owned his work. Not surprisingly, he promptly left Caltech for Princeton.
At Princeton and then the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Wolfram was given carte blanche, but he moved the project toward more simplicity -- one-dimensional lines, instead of two-or three-dimensional blocks. To advance his project, Wolfram needed software that could juggle high-level algebra, advanced formulas, and graphics, so he began work on a software application called Mathematica. Released in 1988, it quickly became one of the most popular pieces of scientific software ever, and made Wolfram a millionaire.
Now he runs his Wolfram Research by day, and delves reclusively into cellular automata into the night. His magnum opus on the subject, A New Kind of Science (2002), announced a scientific revolution based in cellular automata which has yet to materialize. In 2009 his company launched Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine.
Father: Hugo Wolfram (novelist, Into a Neutral Country)
Mother: Sybil Wolfram (Oxford professor of philosophy, d.)
Brother: Conrad Wolfram (younger)
Wife: (mathematician, three children)
High School: Eton College
University: Oxford University
University: PhD Theoretical Physics, Caltech (1979)
Professor: Caltech (1978-82)
Professor: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1986-88)
Wolfram Research CEO (1988-)
Bell Laboratories consultant
Los Alamos National Laboratory consultant
Thinking Machines consultant
Institute for Advanced Study 1982-86
MacArthur Fellowship 1981
Jewish Ancestry Paternal
Author of books:
Cellular Automata and Complexity: Collected Papers
Mathematica: The Student Book
Mathematica Reference Guide
The Mathematica Book
New Kind of Science
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