Von Neumann, Torvalds, and Markov. What’s the story behind these esteemed scientists? Who are they and what significant contributions prompted us to name our rooms after them?

Room 1. von Neumann

After his work with the atomic bomb, von Neumann died of cancer at the age of 53. (Photo from Wikipedia)

We named our first room after John von Neumann (28 December 1903 – 8 February 1957), a Hungarian-born American mathematician and physicist who is known as “the last representative of the great mathematicians” [1]. His contributions include revolutionising aspects of mathematics and physics, economics, statistics, with roles in the invention of the atomic bomb, nuclear energy and digital computing [2].

A visual representation of what the von Neumann Architecture described. (Adapted from Wikipedia)

Best known for: von Neumann Architecture a.k.a. von Neumann model or Princeton Architecture [3]

  • Includes descriptions that form the fundamentals of modern digital stored-program computers
  • Proposed that there would be a processing unit (contains arithmetic / logic unit and processor registers) and a control unit (with the instruction register and program counter)
  • Suggested that there would be a memory unit to store data and instructions, external storage, and input and output mechanisms.

“Can we survive technology? … To ask in advance for a complete recipe would be unreasonable. We can specify only the human qualities required: patience, flexibility, intelligence.” [4]

Did you know? von Neumann was initially supposed to pursue Chemical Engineering – his father had discouraged him from studying Mathematics as he believed that it would not earn him much [5].

Room 2. Torvalds

Torvalds has an estimated net worth of US$150 million today – even though Linux is free [6].

Linus Benedict Torvalds (born 28 December 1969) is a Finnish computer scientist responsible for developing the Linux operating systems and free, open-source Git (the foundational software of GitHub) [7].

Tux, the penguin mascot and logo of Linux.

Best known for: Linux Operating Systems [8]

  • As a computer science student, he made improvements for Minix and UNIX operating systems
  • Unsatisfied, he created Linux and published the free source code online for anyone to make modifications
  • It became popular in the late 1990s and is now commonly used in China and other non-Western countries.

“In real open source, you have the right to control your own destiny.”

Did you know? The passionate diver co-designed and developed Subsurface, a free and open-source software for logging and planning scuba dives [9].

Room 3. Markov

Until his death at the age of 66 from health complications, Markov taught probability courses at the University of St. Petersberg.

Andrey Andreyevich Markov (June 14, 1856 – July 20, 1922), a Russian mathematician responsible for number theory, probability theory, and the Markov Brothers’ inequality (with his younger brother and fellow mathematician, Vladimir Markov) [10, 11].

Algorithms based on Markov Chains are at work every time a search engine returns with recommendations of relevant webpages [12].

Best known for: Markov Chains [13, 14]

  • It’s a theory of stochastic processes, which is a probability theory of a process involving the operation of chance [15].
  • It tells you about mathematical systems that change from one ‘state’ (a situation or set of values) to another – with the probability of this transition.
  • Used in economics, game theory, queueing (communication) theory, genetics, and finance.

“Mathematics to a considerable extent consists in solving problems, [and] together with proper discussion, [this] can be of the highest scientific nature…” [16]

Did you know? His son, Andrey Markov Jr. (1903 – 1979), was also a renowned mathematician with notable contributions in topology, topological algebra, dynamical systems, theory of algorithms and constructive mathematics [17].

We hope that you have enjoyed our Unravelling The Mystery series and that we have piqued your curiosity into some of the greatest computer scientists and contributors to modern computer science! You can read about the faces behind our Parkway Parade Room Names by clicking here.