George Dantzig's Homework Assignment

Posted on: Thu, 01/02/2020 - 15:52 By: Leon San Salvador

In 1939, a young Mathematics student at UC Berkeley named George Dantzig arrived late to class. Two math problems were already written on the blackboard. Knowing nothing about them and assuming they were that evening's homework assignment, he copied them down.

That evening, he began working on these problems. In his own words, Dantzig found them "a little harder than usual" but he persevered. Working on these problems had taken more time than he expected and he now believed they were overdue. After a few days, he finally came up with the solutions and handed them in.

Six weeks later, his professor Jerzy Neyman came to visit him. He was excited. You see, if Dantzig had arrived to class on time, he would have known that the problems on the board were not a homework assignment. They were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics. Believing they were a particularly tough homework assignment, he had just worked at them until he solved them. Without an expectation of failure discouraging him, Dantzig tackled a major problem - technically, two major problems.

His story has been told and retold, passing into legend and even being adapted into a scene in the movie Good Will Hunting.

Dantzig went on to become an expert in linear programming, published several books about it, revolutionized resource expenditure computation (which literally helped the Allies win WWII), and lived to age 90.

We can't all be mathematical geniuses. But we can look at "huge" problems that nobody else has solved and refuse to let that their scope and complexity stop us. What problems will you solve in 2020?

(For further reading, check out Dantzig's Wikipedia Page.)

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.