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Who is John Nash?

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  • Written By: Jessica Hobby
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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John Forbes Nash, Jr., the son of a World War I veteran who was an electrical engineer and a schoolteacher, was born in Bluefield, West Virginia in the United States in 1928. John Nash is revered as a mathematical genius that has made significant contributions to the fields of mathematics and economics. He also had a personal struggle with schizophrenia which was depicted in the award-winning Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind.

As a child, John Nash was eager for knowledge. To quell his curiosity, he read encyclopedias and other educational books. He also performed his own electrical and chemistry experiments in his room. Nash enjoyed being alone to do his experiments and in return, was rejected by his classmates. He dismissed their ridicule as mental inferiority and continued to independently learn.

After high school, John Nash attended college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, which is now Carnegie Mellon University, as a chemical engineering major that eventually changed to mathematics major. While studying at Carnegie, Nash took a course in International Economics which lead to his interest in game theory and would eventually lead to his reception of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Because of his progression in mathematics as an undergraduate student at Carnegie, John Nash was given a Master’s in Science in addition to his Bachelor’s degree.

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After graduation from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1950, Nash taught at Princeton for a year and then chose to accept a more lucrative position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). Nash received tenure at M.I.T and chose to marry on sabbatical in the mid 1950’s. When his wife, Alicia, became pregnant in early 1959, Nash’s schizophrenia revealed itself.

According to Nash, he resigned from his position at M.I.T. during this time. However, all other accounts suggest that he was fired. During the time after his resignation until the early 1970’s John Nash spent time in and out of psychiatric hospitals. After one particular incident at McLean Hospital, Nash traveled to Europe to seek refugee status.

In the early 1970’s Nash’s disease started to fade and he returned to Princeton to continue research at the age of 66. He has singlehandedly contributed to applied mathematics and economics more than any other personin the history of the United States. His most significant contribution was the study of game theory which is used primarily in fields of Economics and International Relations. Still a senior research mathematician at Princeton, John Nash won a Nobel Prize in 1994 for his 27 page dissertation regarding game theory, “Non-Cooperative Games.”

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