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Blackwell receives National Medal of Science

On October 3, President Obama announced the ten winners of this years National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for leadership in Science. The list includes a notable Illinois alumni, David Blackwell, who earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from UIUC in 1941.

Growing up the son of an African American rail worker in the 1920s, David Blackwell would have faced slim hopes for college if not for his unmistakable brilliance with numbers. By age 16 he had entered the University of Illinois, and by age 22 he earned a PhD in mathematics, launching a stellar career.

Once he left the College of LAS (where he studied under the renowned Joseph Doob), Blackwell’s abilities—with numbers and in dealing with people—were put to the test, because so many mathematicians were unaccustomed to working with African Americans. By 1954, however, after working at several historically black universities (including 10 years at Howard University), he became a mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He would become the first African American tenured professor at Berkeley, and also the first African American scholar inducted into the National Academy of Sciences (in 1965). Blackwell was chairman of the Department of Statistics at Berkeley from 1964 to 1968, and would later serve as assistant dean of Berkeley’s College of Letters and Sciences.

Blackwell is known for fundamental contributions to many fields in mathematics, including statistics, sequential analysis, and game theory. His 1954 book, Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions, coauthored with M.A. Girshick, is considered a classic. He was also known for being an outstanding lecturer, receiving the Berkeley Citation in 1988 for extraordinary contributions to the life of the university.

“Basically, I’m not interested in doing research, and I never have been,” Blackwell once said. “I’m interested in understanding, which is quite a different thing. And often to understand something you have to work it out yourself because no one else has done it.”

LAS Gallery of Excellence

Five math department achievements were recognized on the U of I LAS "Gallery of Excellence" in celebration of the College's 100th' anniversary. The math department honorees include the Four Color Theorem and four outstanding scholars, David Blackwell, Joseph Doob, Freeman Hrabowski, and Michio Suzuki. See LAS Gallery of Excellence for more information.

Math Times

Read more news about the Department of Mathematics in the Math Times.

Math Placement at Illinois

All new freshmen coming to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are required to take the ALEKS Math Placement Exam. All new transfer students who do not already have credit for Calculus I (or a higher level math course) are required to take the ALEKS Math Placement Exam. Information about the ALEKS Math Placement Exam is available on the Department of Mathematics website.