Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nicolaas Govert de Bruijn (1918-2012)

I recently heard from MohammadReza Mousavi that Nicolaas Govert de Bruijn passed away on the 17th of February. In his long and productive life, de Bruijn gave contributions to several areas of mathematics and to theoretical computer science. Examples of his contributions are the De Bruijn sequence, De Bruijn's theorem, the De Bruijn–Erdős theorem in graph theory, the De Bruijn notation for terms in the λ calculus and his pioneering work on the project Automath, which was aimed at designing a language for expressing complete mathematical theories in such a way that a computer can verify the correctness of proofs in those theories. (Automath can be seen as the predecessor of type theoretical proof assistants such as the well known Nuprl and Coq.)

To celebrate de Bruijn's 90th birthday, TU/e organized a festive event.  Quoting from the web site for that event:

A number of colleagues, friends and admirers of Dick de Bruijn, from all over the world, wrote a personal letter as a birthday present for his 90th birthday, on July 9, 2008. The collection of these letters can be downloaded here.

Dick de Bruijn's lecture at the day of the symposium has been recorded on film. This film can be seen via this link.

Addendum: One of the letters in the above-mentioned collection is from Donald Knuth. In the letter, Knuth says that de Brujin coined the word "multiset" in a letter addressed to him from 1968. Knuth's letter also mentions the work of three of my former colleagues and ICE-TCS members: Anders Claesson, Mark Dukes and Sergey Kitaev.

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