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John Forbes Nash, Jr., Nobel Memorial Prize Laureate in Economic Sciences

John Forbes Nash, Jr., the great math genius whose accomplishments and struggle with schizophrenia were depicted in a book and a film, both titled "A Beautiful Mind", died with his wife, Alice, in a car accident on Saturday, May 23, 2015 at the age of 86, ending a dramatic story of genius.

His education

John Forbes Nash Jr. was born on June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia. Nash attended kindergarten and public school. Nash's parents pursued opportunities to supplement their son's education, and arranged for him to take advanced mathematics courses at a local community college during his final year of high school. He won a George Westinghouse Scholarship to attend Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), in Pittsburgh. He shifted from chemical engineering to chemistry, then to mathematics. After graduating in 1948 with a B.S. degree and an M.S. degree, both in mathematics, he accepted a scholarship to Princeton University, where he pursued graduate studies in mathematics.

Nash's adviser and former CIT professor Richard Duffin wrote a letter of recommendation for graduate school consisting of a single sentence: "This man is a genius." Nash was accepted by Harvard University, but the chairman of the mathematics department of Princeton, Solomon Lefschetz, offered him the John S. Kennedy fellowship, which was enough to convince Nash that Princeton valued him more. Nash also considered Princeton more favorably because of its location closer to his family in Bluefield. He went to Princeton, where he worked on his equilibrium theory, later known as the Nash equilibrium.

His Ph.D. thesis, written when he was a student of Albert W. Tucker, was the foundation for his Nobel award decades later. By extending game-theory analysis to situations that are not zero-sum games, he built upon the work of Princeton’s John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, who had broken ground in the field with a 1944 book.

Nash taught at Princeton for a year after receiving his Ph.D. in 1950. After a brief stint at the Rand Corp., he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was there until 1959. His work during that time included solving the so-called embedding problem in differential geometry and devising what became known as the Nash bargaining solution.

His major contributions and awards

Nash was widely regarded as one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, known for the originality of his thinking and for his fearlessness in wrestling down problems so difficult few others dared tackle them. A one-sentence letter written by Nash's adviser and former CIT professor Richard Duffin in support of his application to Princeton's doctoral program in math said simply, "This man is a genius."

Nash earned a Ph.D. degree in 1950 with a 28-page dissertation on non-cooperative games and also known as Nash equilibrium, provided a conceptually simple but powerful mathematical tool for analyzing a wide range of competitive situations, from corporate rivalries to legislative decision-making.

Nash was honoured for his early insights, still widely used in economics, into how rivals shift or maintain strategies and allegiances. The Nash Equilibrium describes the moment when all parties are pursuing their best-case scenario and wouldn't change course even if a rival does. His theories are used in economics, computing, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, accounting, politics and military theory. Serving as a Senior Research Mathematician at Princeton University during the latter part of his life, he shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi.

Nash received an honorary degree, Doctor of Science and Technology, from Carnegie Mellon University in 1999, an honorary degree in economics from the University of Naples Federico II on March 19, 2003, an honorary doctorate in economics from the University of Antwerp in April 2007, and was keynote speaker at a conference on game theory. He has also been a prolific guest speaker at a number of world-class events, such as the Warwick Economics Summit in 2005 held at the University of Warwick. In 2012 he was elected as a fellow of the American Mathematical Society. On May 19, 2015, he and Louis Nirenberg were presented with the 2015 Abel Prize by King Harald V of Norway at a ceremony in Oslo.

On May 23, 2015, Nash and his wife Alicia de Lardé Nash were killed in a car accident on their way home after a visit to Norway where Nash had received the Abel prize.

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