Saturday, October 18, 2014

David Harold Blackwell - the first black scholar admitted to the National Academy of Sciences

In Memoriam David BlackwellDavid Harold Blackwell was Professor Emeritus of Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and is one of the eponyms of the Rao–Blackwell theorem. Born in Centralia, Illinois, he was the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and the first black tenured faculty member at UC Berkeley. David entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with the intent to teach elementary school mathematics. In 1938 he earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics, a master's degree in 1939, and was awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1941 at the age of 22, all by the University of Illinois. He was offered a post at Southern University at Baton Rouge, which he held in 1942–43, followed by a year as an Instructor at Clark College in Atlanta. He then moved to Howard University in 1944 and within three years was appointed full professor and head of the Mathematics Department. He remained at Howard until 1954. He took a position at University of California Berkeley as a visiting professor in 1954, and was hired by UC Berkeley as a full professor in the newly created Statistics Department in 1955, becoming the Statistics department chair in 1956. He spent the rest of his career at UC Berkeley, retiring in 1988. He made his mark as a free-ranging problem solver in numerous sub disciplines. His fascination with game theory, for example, prompted him to investigate the mathematics of bluffing and to develop a theory on the optimal moment for an advancing duelist to open fire.

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