John von Neumann (1903-1957)

A true genius

John von Neumann has gone down in computer history with the "von Neumann architecture". It describes the logical structure of almost all computers in use today. Born the son of a Jewish banker in Budapest in 1903, his exceptional mathematical talent made him stand out at an early age. In the 1920s, he studied chemistry in Berlin and Zurich while studying for a Doctorate in mathematics in Budapest. He went on to lecture in Göttingen, Berlin and Hamburg. During a stay in America from 1930 to 1933, he was a visiting professor of mathematical physics at Princeton University, the youngest colleague of Albert Einstein's. In 1933 he moved to the USA for good, and became a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton. Von Neumann is considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, whose work included mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics, logic, mathematical economic theory and ballistics.

Neumann, the atomic bomb and the computer

From 1943, von Neumann worked on the atomic bomb project headed by Robert Oppenheimer. In addition to solving mathematical problems in developing the deton-ator for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, he dealt with computations to establish the optimum height at which it had to be detonated. In his search for a suitable tool to cope with the huge volume of data, he joined the ENIAC team in 1944. Even when still working on the ENIAC, they were planning the successor model - the EDVAC. In his report on the EDVAC, von Neumann described the computer architecture that bears his name - consisting of five specific parts: central arithmetical (CA), central control (CC), memory (M), input (I) and output (O). After the war von Neumann returned to the IAS and dedicated himself to developing an electronic computer for scientific purposes. This IAS vacuum-tube computer based on his architecture was ready for operation in 1952.

Tragic death through radiation

In addition to working on the computer, he rose to become an important military adviser, whose influence and recognition extended to the highest circles of the US government and armed forces. John von Neumann died in February 1957 of cancer that was a result of irradiation in the atomic bomb tests.