Paul Erdos: The Wandering Mathematician

One of the notable mathematicians who have dedicated his life (literally) to mathematics was Paul Erdos. Erdos, a Hungarian mathematician, was one of the most prolific mathematicians. He has published more research papers than any mathematician in history, 1500 research papers in his lifetime.

paul erdos

Paul Erdos

Starting at age 25, Erdos started traveling from one university to another, and collaborating with numerous mathematicians. Later in his life, he lived almost as a vagabond; he gave up most of his belongings leaving only what is needed for travel. He would use his earnings to help mathematics students. He would offer prizes to solutions to unresolved mathematical problems ranging from $25 to several thousands. The most famous of these problems is the Erdos Conjecture on arithmetic progressions which has a prize of $5000.

Erdos was known for his elementary proofs to difficult problems. When he was 18, he found an elegant but elementary proof that there is at least one prime between n and 2n for n > 2.  He was also known for solving (and posing) mathematical problems that are easy to understand, but extremely difficult to prove.  His numerous works on number theory, combinatorics, probability and set theory earned him the Wolf Prize.

Because of his prolific output, his friends created Erdos number, a number which is the degree of separation to Erdos based on collaboration.  A person with Erdos number 1 directly collaborated with Erdos himself, and a person with an Erdos number 2 have collaborated with a person whose Erdos number is 1, and so on.

Erdos was also known for his idiosyncrasies. He spoke of “The Book,” an imaginary book in which God has hidden all beautiful and elegant proofs. He is also known for saying that to give a student an oral exam is to “torture him” and that people who have stopped doing mathematics had died.

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