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Maxwell Herman Alexander Newman (7 February 1897 – 22 February 1984) was a British mathematician and codebreaker.

Pre-World War II

Max Newman was born Maxwell Neumann in Chelsea, London, England, on 7 February 1897.[1] His father was Herman Alexander Neumann, originally from the German city of Bromberg (now in Poland) who had emigrated with his family to London at the age of 15.[2] Herman worked as a secretary in a company, and married Sarah Ann Pike, an English schoolteacher, in 1896. The family moved to Dulwich in 1903, and Max attended Goodrich Road school, then City of London School from 1908.[3] He won a scholarship to study mathematics at St John's College, Cambridge in 1915, and in 1916 gained a first in part I of the Mathematical Tripos.[1]

His studies were postponed by World War I. His father was interned as an enemy alien after the start of the war in 1914, and upon his release he returned to Germany. In 1916, Max changed his name using a Deed of change of name to the anglicised "Newman" and Sarah did likewise in 1920..[4] For national service, Max taught at Archbishop Holgate's Grammar School in York, worked in the Royal Army Pay Corps, and taught at Chigwell School.[2] He was called up for military service in February 1918, but claimed conscientious objection due to his beliefs and his father's country of origin, and thereby avoided any direct role in the fighting.[5]

He resumed his interrupted studies in October 1919, and graduated in 1921 as a wrangler (equivalent to a first) in Part II of the Mathematical Tripos, and gained distinction in Schedule B (the equivalent of Part III).[1][2]

On 5 November 1923 he was elected a Fellow of St John's.[3] He worked on the foundations of combinatorial topology, and proposed that a notion of equivalence be defined using only three elementary "moves".[1] Newman's definition avoided difficulties that had arisen from previous definitions of the concept.[1] He also published papers on mathematical logic, and solved a special case of Hilbert's fifth problem.[3]

He was appointed a lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge in 1927,[1] where his 1935 lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics inspired Alan Turing to embark on his pioneering work on computing machines. Newman wrote Elements of the topology of plane sets of points (1939), a definitive work on general topology, and still highly recommended as an undergraduate text. In December 1934 he married Lyn Lloyd Irvine, a writer.[3] They had two sons, Edward (born 1935) and William (born 1939).[6]

World War II

Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. The part-Jewish ancestry of the Newman family was of particular concern in the face of Nazi Germany, and Lyn, Edward and William were evacuated to America in July 1940. Newman remained at Cambridge, and at first continued research and lecturing.[7] By spring 1942, he was considering involvement in war work. He made enquiries, and was approached to work for the Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park. He was cautious, concerned to ensure that the work would be sufficiently interesting and useful, and there was also the possibility that his father's German nationality would rule out any involvement in top-secret work.[8] The potential issues were resolved by the summer, and he agreed to arrive at Bletchley Park on 31 August 1942.[9]

He was assigned to the Research Section and set to work on a German teleprinter cipher known as "Tunny". He joined the "Testery" in October[10]. He disliked the work and found that it was not suited to his talents.[1] He persuaded his superiors that codebreaking process could be mechanised, and he was assigned to develop a suitable machine in December 1942.[11] Construction started in January 1943, and the first prototype was delivered in June 1943.[12] It was operated in Newman's new section, termed the "Newmanry", was housed initially in Hut 11 and initially staffed by himself, Donald Michie, two engineers, and 16 Wrens.[13] The Wrens nicknamed the machine the "Heath Robinson", after the cartoonist of the same name who drew humorous drawings of absurd mechanical devices.[13]

The Robinson machines were limited in speed and reliability. Tommy Flowers of the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill had experience of thermionic valves and built an electronic machine, the Colossus computer which was installed in the Newmanry. This was a great success and ten were in use by the end of the war.

Post-World War II

By September 1945, Newman was appointed head of the Mathematics Department and to the Fielden Chair of Pure Mathematics at the University of Manchester. Newman lost no time in establishing the renowned Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory at the University and recruited the engineers Frederic Calland Williams and Thomas Kilburn where they built the world's first electronic stored-program digital computer based on Turing's ideas.[14] Newman retired in 1964 to live in Comberton, near Cambridge. After Lyn's death in 1973 he married Margaret Penrose, widow of Lionel Penrose.

He continued to do research on combinatorial topology during a period when England was a major centre of activity notably Cambridge under the leadership of Christopher Zeeman. Newman made important contributions leading to an invitation to present his work at the 1962 International Congress of Mathematicians in Stockholm at the age of 65, and proved a Generalized Poincaré conjecture for topological manifolds in 1966. He died in Cambridge.


* Fellow of the Royal Society, Elected 1939
* Royal Society Sylvester Medal, Awarded 1958
* London Mathematical Society, President 1949 - 1951
* LMS De Morgan Medal, Awarded 1962
* D.Sc. University of Hull, Awarded 1968

The Newman Building at Manchester was named in his honour. The building housed the pure mathematicians from the Victoria University of Manchester between moving out of the Mathematics Tower in 2004 and July 2007 when the School of Mathematics moved in to its new Alan Turing Building, where a lecture room is named in his honour.

In 1946 Newman declined the offer of an OBE in protest against the "ludicrous treatment" of Alan Turing, who had received the same award for his vital war work.[2]

See also

* Newman's lemma


* Obituary, The Times

1. ^ a b c d e f g Shaun Wylie, rev. I. J. Good, "Newman [formerly Neumann], Maxwell Herman Alexander (1897 - 1984), mathematician", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
2. ^ a b c d William Newman, "Max Newman – Mathematician, Codebreaker and Computer Pioneer", p. 177 from pp. 176-188 in B. Jack Copeland, ed., Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers, Oxford University Press, 2006
3. ^ a b c d J. F. Adams (1985). "Maxwell Herman Alexander Newman". Biograph. Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 31: 437–452.
4. ^ D. P. Anderson (2007). "Max Newman:Topologist, Codebreaker and Pioneer of Computing". Annals of the History of Computing 29 (3): 76–81. doi:10.1109/MAHC.2007.4338447.
5. ^ Paul Gannon, Colossus: Bletchley Park's Greatest Secret, 2006, pp. 225-226, Atlantic Books, ISBN 1-84354-330-3
6. ^ Newman, "Max Newman", pp. 179-180
7. ^ Newman, "Max Newman", p. 180
8. ^ Gannon, 2006, p. 227-228
9. ^ Newman, "Max Newman", p. 181
10. ^ Gannon, 2006, p. 228
11. ^ Newman, "Max Newman", p. 182
12. ^ Jack Copeland with Catherine Caughey, Dorothy Du Boisson, Eleanor Ireland, Ken Myers, and Norman Thurlow, "Mr Newman's Section", p. 157 of pp. 158-175 in B. Jack Copeland, ed., Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers, Oxford University Press, 2006
13. ^ a b Jack Copeland, "Machine against Machine", p. 65 from pp. 64-77 in B. Jack Copeland, ed., Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers, Oxford University Press, 2006
14. ^ Turing, Alan Mathison; Jack Copeland, B (2004). The essential Turing: seminal writings in computing, logic, philosophy .... Oxford University Press. p. 209. ISBN 9780198250807. http://books.google.com/?id=x7mMr4twnloC&pg=PA209. Retrieved 2010-01-27.

External links

* O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Max Newman", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews, http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Newman.html .
* The Papers of Max Newman, St John's College Library
* The Newman Digital Archive, St John's College Library & The University of Portsmouth


Mathematics Encyclopedia

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