The Math Wizard

The Math Wizard

John Horton Conway was an extra-ordinary mathematician who worked on more topics than any active mathematician did. He was one of very few pure mathematicians who took the spirit of carrying the same spirit to young children and students alike.

Mathematical toys and games, such as the Rubik’s Cube, are always an exciting topic of mutual interest for Conway and his audience. John Conway likes to challenge people in a game of “dots and boxes” that game often played in high schools but has surprisingly deep mathematical content. Conway was always ready for any kind of mathematical game. He was always surrounded by students no matter where.

Like Gary Sobers and Jacques Kallis in Cricket, Conway is a complete all rounder in mathematics having made seminal contributions in the theory of finite groups, number theory, combinatorial game theory and coding theory died aged 82 at Princeton New Jersey, USA being a victim of COVID-19. His demise is a terrible loss to global mathematical community and cannot be filled at least in the near future. Here is a brief description about John Horton Conway as published in the Princeton University Portal for your reference.

Though the Mathematician has a huge list of credits of his contribution to the subject, this article will tour you along his contributions to invigorate the interest of young generations (general audience) towards mathematics, through his various persistent creative approaches to the subject.

Here is what the Princeton University says about such spirits of the mathematical wizard.

Notwithstanding his serious chops, John is equally if not more renowned for his persistent playing around, which makes him a great teacher and a wonderful speaker, especially to a general audience. Forever the showman, always seeking the center of attention, he gained a reputation for carrying on his person ropes, pennies, coat hangers, cards, dice, games, puzzles, models, sometimes a Slinky— props deployed to extend his winning and charismatic imagination. In this sense, John is one of his discipline’s best ambassadors, bringing mathematics to the masses—be it at summer math camps teaching some of his more trivial and eccentric mathematical inventions to wide-eyed students, or delivering public lectures on Archimedes and Escher and the like to standing room only crowds at McCosh Hall. At the drop of a hat, he can also discuss the conversion of the Hebrew calendar to the Roman one, as well as constellations and phases of the moon, the strange etymology of English words (such as “floccinaucinihilipilification”), or the symmetry of brick patterns in walls.

"John Conway is a mathematician whose interests run broad and deep, ranging from classical geometry to the 196,884-dimensional Monster group to infinity and beyond. Perhaps his greatest achievement is the invention of new system of numbers, the surreal numbers—a continuum of numbers that include not only real numbers (integers, fractions, and irrationals such as pi, which in his heyday he could recite from memory to more than 1,100 digits), but also the infinitesimal and the infinite numbers. When he discovered them in 1970, the surreals had John wandering around in a white-hot daydream for weeks. His only regret, in this regard, is that he has not yet seen the surreals applied. The conventional wisdom, however, is that the surreals no doubt will find application; it is just a question of how and when.

Born on December 26, 1937, in Liverpool, England, John, as his mother once recalled, became interested in mathematics at a very early age, reciting the powers of two when he was four years old. Also, from a young age he could calculate the day of the week for any given date (a skill he later refined, on the urging of Martin Gardner, with his Doomsday algorithm).

John’s Significant Contributions to Mathematics

All through his extensive career, John has made noteworthy contributions to the various fields of mathematics such as group theory, number theory, algebra, geometric topology, theoretical physics, combinatorial game theory, and geometry.


Pie Mathematics Association salutes this great mathematician and pays sincere tributes to John Horton Conway; the most renowned mathematician in the globe, on his demise due to influence of COVID-19. We wish that his soul rested in peace at heavens. To know more about this genius you can read his biographical book "Genius at Play: The curious mind of John Horton Conway".

Courtesy: Princeton University

Shared by Professor R. Sivaraman, D.G. Vaishnav College | Founder Trustee - Pie Mathematics Association