Past Member

David H. Blackwell


In 1941, David Blackwell became the seventh African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. He spent the following year at the Institute as a Member in the School of Mathematics, where he developed his doctoral thesis into his first published paper, about Markov chains in probability. This work later grew into a series of papers that provided a rigorous mathematical basis for the theory of dynamic programming. Blackwell’s work in probability, statistics, game theory, and dynamic programming came to have wide-ranging influence, but he recalled in a 1984 interview that he didn’t choose problems to work on because of their potential applicability. “I just picked directions that interested me and worked in them. And I have had fun,” he said. “I guess that’s the way scholars should work. Don’t worry about the overall importance of the problem; work on it if it looks interesting. I think there’s probably a sufficient correlation between interest and importance.”

Dates at IAS
  • Mathematics
University of Illinois Ph.D., 1941
Fellow, Institute of Mathematical Statistics
Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Member, American Philosophical Society
Member, National Academy of Sciences.
Von Neumann Theory Prize, Operations Research & Society
Institute of Mathematics Statistics 1995 President