George Dantzig

Biography of George Dantzig

George Dantzig Biography

George Bernard Dantzig (November 8, 1914 – May 13, 2004) was a physicist and mathematician. He was born in Portland, Oregon, United States. His father, Tobias Dantzig, was a mathematician with Russian origin who studied with Henri Poincaré in Paris. Then at the Sorbonne University, he was a professor of Mathematics and started a relationship with his student Anja Ourisson. After a while, they got married and emigrated to the United States. Their firstborn was George. During Dantzig’s youth his father worked as the director of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, but at the end of World War II, he resigned from this position. On the other side, Anja’s mother was a linguist specializing in Slavic languages.

George was accepted in the University of Maryland to study mathematics in where he would get his B.S. However, he was never satisfied with the teaching methods this university used. In 1937, Dantzig began working in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Motivated and convinced he started a Doctorate in Statistics at the University of Berkeley, CA where he also felt that the courses were too simple and even meaningless which led him to think about dropping out college. While attending a class in 1939, Professor Jerzy Neyman wrote on the board two complex statistical problems to resolve.

According to Dantzig, the problems were complex, but not impossible to solve. A few days later, he obtained the results. Dantzig received the visit of professor Jerzy Neyman, who pretended, admired by his intelligence, to publish Dantzig’s solution to the problems in a mathematical magazine. Indeed, it was so, years later another researcher, Abraham Wald, complemented and published the last article on this feat in which he explained the conclusion of the second problem, Dantzig was included as the co-author. The solutions to these problems were his doctoral thesis, at the suggestion of Professor Neyman.

Nevertheless, Dantzig interrupted his doctorate shortly after the start of World War II to join the United States Air Force and work with the Combat Analysis Branch of Statistical Control. Soon after, he returned and finished the last stage of his doctorate. After achieving this, he returned to the Air Force to take up the post of Mathematics Advisor of the U. S. Air Force Controller.

He assumed the direction of the Combat Analysis Branch of Statistical Air Force Headquarters of the United States. This work motivated him to perform his great mathematical feats because the Air Force needed to calculate the duration of the stages of a deployment program, training and logistics supply in a more optimal and efficient way. Although he spent a lot of time to find this, he made a great contribution in 1947 when he proposed the Simplex Method to solve a linear programming problem.

In 1952, he was a mathematical researcher at the RAND Corporation, where he implemented linear programming, already studied, in the computers of the corporation. The success at that time was big, and he would keep on doing similar jobs in the universities of Berkeley and Stanford in California, also in centers like the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna. In this last work, he made improvements regarding linear programming problems.

On October 3, 1947, Dantzig met John von Neumann, considered one of the best Mathematician in the world, at the Institute for Advanced Study. Neumann told him about the “Game Theory” a work that was still under construction, carried out in conjunction with Oscar Morgenstern. This was very important because with the acquired knowledge he developed the theory of duality, developed with Fulkerson and Johnson in 1954.

On the other hand, he worked on bifurcation and cutting methods, used in programming to solve big problems. He was responsible for stochastic programming that focuses on the problems of mathematical programming that contain random variables, from this programming, have emerged various models. His knowledge and contribution were reflected in his two books: Linear Programming and Extensions (1963), and a book of two volumes: Linear Programming (1997 and 2003), written with N. Thapa.

He received several recognitions for his great work and his contribution to the military forces of his country. In 1976, President Gerald Ford granted Dantzig the National Medal of Science, his work was recognized during an important ceremony in the White House where he recognized his invention of Linear Programming, which allowed an efficient use of mathematical theory. He also received the Von Neumann Theory Award in 1975, Prize in Applied Mathematics and Numerical Analysis from the National Academy of Sciences in 1977. In Israel, he was awarded the Harvey Prize in Science and Technology from Technion, in 1985. The Academy of Sciences and The US National Academy of Engineering recognized his contribution as a member. A prize was created in his honor given by the Mathematical Programming Societies and SIAM.

The last years of his life had several complications related to his health. Diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Due to this, on May 13, 2004, George Bernard Dantzig died at the age of 90 years accompanied by his family at his residence located in Stanford.


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