James W. Alexander

Princeton University

September 19, 1888 - September 23, 1971

Election Year: 1930
Scientific Discipline: Mathematics
Membership Type: Member

James Waddell Alexander is credited with founding the mathematical field of topology, which is concerned with the transformation of geometric figures. He provided insight into the differences in space between three-dimensional figures and two-dimensional figures. In 1928 he identified the Alexander polynomial, which is instrumental to knot theory. This discovery allowed a way to determine knots algebraically.

Alexander attended Princeton University, where he studied mathematics and physics. He earned his BS degree in 1910 and his MS degree in 1911. He served as an instructor of mathematics at Princeton until 1912, when he traveled abroad to conduct research. When he returned to Princeton in 1915, he earned his PhD for his dissertation on functions that map the interior of the unit circle upon simple regions. At the beginning of World War I he aided in the war effort, serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Ordnance Office, where he implemented his math skills at a weapons-testing facility. He returned to Princeton as an instructor in mathematics at the end of the war and was offered a full professorship in 1928. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 1933 to 1951. During World War II he again offered his knowledge, this time as a civilian, for the U.S. Army Air Force at their Office of Scientific Research and Development.

Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software