Ulam, Stanislaw Marcin (1909–1984)

Stanislaw Ulam

Stanislaw Ulam was a Polish-born American mathematician and physicist who solved the problem of how to initiate fusion in the hydrogen bomb and also devised the Monte Carlo method of solving mathematical problems using statistical sampling. He first came to the United States in 1935 following an invitation from John von Neumann. One morning in 1946 an event happened that changed Ulam's life, as a colleague, Gian-Carlo Rota recalled:


... Ulam, a newly appointed professor at the University of Southern California, awoke to find himself unable to speak. A few hours later, he underwent a dangerous surgical operation after the diagnosis of encephalitis... In time, however, some changes in his personality became obvious to those who knew him... [H]is ideas, which he spouted out at odd intervals, were fascinating beyond anything I have witnessed before or since. However, he seemed to studiously avoid going into details... [H]e came to lean on his unimpaired imagination for his ideas, and on ... others for technical support... A crippling technical weakness coupled with an extraordinarily creative imagination is the drama of Stan Ulam.


Ulam was born in Lwow, then in the Polish part of the Austrian Empire (now Lvov in the Ukraine), and received his doctorate from the Polytechnic Institute in Lwow in 1933. He emigrated to the United States in 1936, joining the staff at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He moved to Harvard in 1939, and was on the staff of the University of Wisconsin at Madison from 1941 to 1943. He then became an American citizen and joined the Manhattan Project, remaining at Los Alamos until 1965. Subsequently, he taught at several American universities.



1. Cooper, Necia Grant (ed). From Cardinals to Chaos: Reflections on the Life and Legacy of Stanislaw Ulam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.