John Forbes Nash was born on June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia. His parents, John Nash, Sr., worked as an electrical engineer for the Appalachian Power Company, and Margaret Nash, was a retired teacher. Margaret gave a high preference to education but young Nash didn’t show much inclination to studies. He did, however, exhibit a passion for electronics and chemistry, and would often conduct experiments in his room. His eventual passion for number theory stemmed from the book by E. T. Bell, Men of Mathematics, which he read as a young teenage. He attended high school at Bluefield College, and during his school years, he assisted his father on a paper published in the 1945 edition of Electrical Engineering, “Sag and Tension Calculations for Cable and Wire Spans Using Catenary Formulas”. Upon contesting for the George Westinghouse Competition, Nash won the one of ten nationally awarded full scholarships. He aspired to become an engineer like his father, therefore, he used his scholarship to enrol at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. However, his calculus professor, John Synge, advised him to change his major to Mathematics. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in 1948.
In 1948, Nash was awarded the John S. Kennedy Fellowship at Princeton University. In 1949, he also received the Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship that enabled him to complete his doctoral studies at Princeton, he completed his doctorate at the age of 22. While studying at Princeton, Nash published his first paper in 1950, “The Bargaining Problem”, in the journal Econometrica. In this paper, he elaborated his mathematical model of bargaining presented in his highly acclaimed doctoral thesis, “Non-Cooperative Games”, which was published in the journal Annals of Mathematics, in 1951. This led to his development of the mathematical principles of game theory, that examines the competition and rivalries among opposing teams based on mathematical principals. His theory, famously known as the Nash Equilibrium or the Nash Solution, provided a comprehensive explanation to the interplay of threat and action between competitors. The Nash Equilibrium received overwhelming approval and was adopted by strategists worldwide.
He began his career in 1951, by accepting a post in the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During this period, he conducted extensive research on partial differential equations, he published his research in 1952, in his seminal paper, “Real Algebraic Manifolds”, which was published in Annals of Mathematics. Soon after, he began experiencing severe bouts of psychological illness, which was later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, and in 1950s he had to resign. Nash had to carry out an exhausting and painful struggle against his mental condition, staying in and out of mental institutions. He began an informal association with Princeton, and when his mental condition improved, he was appointed a senior research mathematician in 1995.
John Forbes Nash made several influential and notable academic contributions to the field of mathematics. His highly acclaimed work includes the Nash-Moser inverse function theorem, the Nash–De Giorgi theorem and the Nash embedding theorem, among others. He has received many prestigious awards and honors, such as the academy awarded Abel Prize, John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1978 and the American Mathematical Society’s Leroy P. Steele Prize for a Seminal Contribution to Research, in 1999. The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters described his Nash embedding theorem as “among the most original results in geometric analysis of the twentieth century”.
Nash’s life has been an example of constant motivation and dedication, he tirelessly fought against his illness which was determined to corrode his mind, he in turn was just as determined to fight against it and meanwhile, he also managed to benefit the academic world with his ground breaking theories. His life has been portrayed in the famous film, “A beautiful mind” which was based on a book by Sylvia Nasar, A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash.
John Forbes Nash died on May 23, 2015 in New Jersey, United States.