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George Plya

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George Plya

George Plya, circa 1973


December 13, 1887

Budapest, Austria-Hungary


September 7, 1985 (aged 97)

Palo Alto, California


Hungarian (1918)
Swiss (19181947)
American (1947his death)[1]




ETH Zrich
Stanford University

Alma mater

Etvs Lornd University

Doctoral advisor

Lipt Fejr

Albert Edrei
Hans Einstein
Fritz Gassmann
Doctoral students
Albert Pfluger
Walter Saxer
James J. Stoker

Known for

How to solve it
Multivariate Plya distribution
Plya conjecture
Plya enumeration theorem

LandauKolmogorov inequality
PlyaVinogradov inequality
Plya inequality
PlyaAeppli distribution
Plya urn model
George Plya (Hungarian: Plya Gyrgy, pronounced [poj r]; December 13, 1887
September 7, 1985) was a Hungarian mathematician. He was a professor of mathematics from
1914 to 1940 at ETH Zrich and from 1940 to 1953 at Stanford University. He made
fundamental contributions to combinatorics, number theory, numerical analysis and probability
theory. He is also noted for his work in heuristics and mathematics education.

Life and works
He was born as Plya Gyrgy in Budapest, Austria-Hungary to Anna Deutsch and Jakab Plya,
Roman Catholics who converted from Judaism in 1886.[2] Although his parents were religious
and he was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, George Plya grew up to be an agnostic.[3]
He was a professor of mathematics from 1914 to 1940 at ETH Zrich in Switzerland and from
1940 to 1953 at Stanford University. He remained Stanford Professor Emeritus for the rest of his
life and career. He worked on a range of mathematical topics, including series, number theory,
mathematical analysis, geometry, algebra, combinatorics, and probability.[4]
He died in Palo Alto, California, USA.

Early in his career, Plya wrote with Gbor Szeg two influential problem books Problems and
Theorems in Analysis (I: Series, Integral Calculus, Theory of Functions and II: Theory of
Functions. Zeros. Polynomials. Determinants. Number Theory. Geometry). Later in his career, he
spent considerable effort to identify systematic methods of problem-solving to further discovery
and invention in mathematics for students, teachers, and researchers.[5] He wrote five books on
the subject: How to Solve It, Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning (Volume I: Induction and
Analogy in Mathematics, and Volume II: Patterns of Plausible Inference), and Mathematical
Discovery: On Understanding, Learning, and Teaching Problem Solving (volumes 1 and 2).
In How to Solve It, Plya provides general heuristics for solving a gamut of problems, including
both mathematical and non-mathematical problems. The book includes advice for teaching
students of mathematics and a mini-encyclopedia of heuristic terms. It was translated into several
languages and has sold over a million copies. Russian physicist Zhores I. Alfyorov, (Nobel
laureate in 2000) praised it, noting that he was a fan. The book is still used in mathematical
education. Douglas Lenat's Automated Mathematician and Eurisko artificial intelligence
programs were inspired by Plya's work.

In addition to his works directly addressing problem solving, Plya wrote another short book
called Mathematical Methods in Science, based on a 1963 work supported by the National
Science Foundation, edited by Leon Bowden, and published by the Mathematical Association of
America (MAA) in 1977. As Plya notes in the preface, Professor Bowden carefully followed a
tape recording of a course Plya gave several times at Stanford in order to put the book together.
Plya notes in the preface "that the following pages will be useful, yet they should not be
regarded as a finished expression."

There are three prizes (whose names are confused with one another) named after Plya. In 1969
the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) established the George Plya Prize,
given alternately in two categories for "a notable application of combinatorial theory" and for "a
notable contribution in another area of interest to George Plya."[6] In 1976 the Mathematical
Association of America (MAA) established the George Plya Award "for articles of expository
excellence" published in the College Mathematics Journal.[7] In 1987 the London Mathematical
Society (LMS) established the Plya Prize for "outstanding creativity in, imaginative exposition
of, or distinguished contribution to, mathematics within the United Kingdom."[8]
A mathematics center has been named in Plya's honor at the University of Idaho in Moscow,
Idaho. The mathematics center focuses mainly on tutoring students in the subjects of algebra and

See also

LandauKolmogorov inequality
Multivariate Plya distribution
Plya conjecture
Polya distribution
Plya enumeration theorem
PlyaVinogradov inequality
Plya inequality
Polya urn model
Plya's proof that there is no "horse of a different color"

1. George Polya in the Swiss historic lexicon.
3. Harold D. Taylor, Loretta Taylor (1993). George Plya: master of discovery 1887-1985.
Dale Seymour Publications. p. 50. ISBN 9780866516112. Plancherel was a military man,
a colonel in the Swiss army, and a devout Catholic; Plya did not like military
ceremonies or activities, and he was an agnostic who objected to hierarchical religions.
4. Roberts, A. Wayne (1995). Faces of Mathematics, Third Edition. New York, NY USA:
HaperCollins College Publishers. p. 479. ISBN 0-06-501069-8.

5. Schoenfeld, Alan H. (December 1987). "Plya, Problem Solving, and Education".

Mathematics Magazine (Mathematics Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 5) 60 (5): 283291.
doi:10.2307/2690409. JSTOR 2690409.
6. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics George Plya Prize
7. Mathematical Association of America George Plya Award
8. London Mathematical Society Polya Prize
9. University of Idaho Polya Center

External links
Wikiquote has quotations related to: George Plya

The George Plya Award

O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "George Plya", MacTutor History of
Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
George Plya at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
George Plya, Gbor Szeg, Problems and theorems in analysis (1998)
PolyaPoweran introduction to Polya's Heuristics at the Wayback Machine (archived
July 28, 2009)
George Plya on UIUC's WikEd
Memorial Resolution
George Plya Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences
"Polya Guessing" on Vimeo


1887 births
1985 deaths
20th-century mathematicians
20th-century Hungarian people
American agnostics
Hungarian Jews
American mathematicians
American people of Hungarian-Jewish descent
American statisticians
Hungarian emigrants to Switzerland
ETH Zurich faculty
Hungarian agnostics
Hungarian mathematicians
Hungarian statisticians
Complex analysts
Mathematical analysts
Members of the United States National Academy of Sciences

People from Budapest

Swiss emigrants to the United States
Swiss mathematicians
Swiss statisticians

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