Elwyn Berlekamp

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Elwyn Berlekamp
Berlekamp in 2005
Elwyn Ralph Berlekamp

(1940-09-06)September 6, 1940
DiedApril 9, 2019(2019-04-09) (aged 78)
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Known forBerlekamp's algorithm
Berlekamp switching game
Berlekamp–Welch algorithm
Berlekamp–Massey algorithm
Berlekamp–Rabin algorithm
Berlekamp–Zassenhaus algorithm
Berlekamp–Van Lint–Seidel graph
Combinatorial game theory
Cooling and heating
Coupon Go
Error-correcting codes with feedback
Partisan game
AwardsIEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal (1991)
Claude E. Shannon Award (1993)
Scientific career
FieldsInformation theory, Coding theory, Combinatorial game theory
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley
ThesisBlock coding with noiseless feedback (1964)
Doctoral advisorRobert G. Gallager
Doctoral studentsJulia Kempe
Other notable studentsKen Thompson

Elwyn Ralph Berlekamp (September 6, 1940 – April 9, 2019) was a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley.[1][2] Berlekamp was widely known for his work in computer science, coding theory and combinatorial game theory.

Berlekamp invented an algorithm to factor polynomials and the Berlekamp switching game, and was one of the inventors of the Berlekamp–Welch algorithm and the Berlekamp–Massey algorithms, which are used to implement Reed–Solomon error correction. He also co-invented the Berlekamp–Rabin algorithm, Berlekamp–Zassenhaus algorithm, and the Berlekamp–Van Lint–Seidel graph.

Berlekamp had also been active in investing, and ran Axcom, which became the Renaissance Technologies' Medallion Fund.

Life and education[edit]

Berlekamp was born in Dover, Ohio. His family moved to Northern Kentucky, where Berlekamp graduated from Ft. Thomas Highlands high school in Ft. Thomas, Campbell county, Kentucky. While an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he was a Putnam Fellow in 1961.[3] He completed his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering in 1962. Continuing his studies at MIT, he finished his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1964; his advisors were Robert G. Gallager, Peter Elias, Claude Shannon, and John Wozencraft.

Berlekamp had two daughters and a son with his wife Jennifer. He lived in Piedmont, California and died in April 2019 at the age of 78 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis.[4]


Berlekamp was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley from 1964 until 1966, when he became a mathematics researcher at Bell Labs. In 1971, Berlekamp returned to Berkeley as professor of mathematics and computer science, where he served as the advisor for over twenty doctoral students.[1][2][5]

He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering (1977)[6] and the National Academy of Sciences (1999).[7] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996,[8] and became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society in 2012.[9] In 1991, he received the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal,[10] and in 1993, the Claude E. Shannon Award. In 1998, he received a Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation from the IEEE Information Theory Society.[11] Along with Tom M. Rodgers[12] he was one of the founders of Gathering 4 Gardner and was on its board for many years.[13] In the mid-1980s, he was president of Cyclotomics, Inc., a corporation that developed error-correcting code technology.[1]

He studied various games, including dots and boxes, fox and geese, and, especially, Go. Berlekamp and co-author David Wolfe describe methods for analyzing certain classes of Go endgames in the book Mathematical Go.

Berlekamp and Martin Gardner[edit]

Berlekamp was a close friend of Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner and was an important member of the gifted and diverse group of people that Gardner nurtured and acted as a conduit for; people who inspired Gardner and who were in turn inspired by him.[14] Berlekamp teamed up with John Horton Conway and Richard K. Guy, two other close associates of Gardner, to co-author the book Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays, leading to his recognition as one of the founders of combinatorial game theory.[15] The dedication of their book says, "To Martin Gardner, who has brought more mathematics to more millions than anyone else."[16]

Berlekamp and Gardner both had great love for and were strong advocates of recreational mathematics.[15] Conferences called Gathering 4 Gardner (G4G) are held every two years to celebrate the Gardner legacy.[14] Berlekamp was one of the founders of G4G and was on its board of directors for many years.[17]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Block coding with noiseless feedback. Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, 1964.
  • Algebraic Coding Theory, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Revised ed., Aegean Park Press, 1984, ISBN 0-89412-063-8.
  • (with John Horton Conway and Richard K. Guy) Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays.
  • (with David Wolfe) Mathematical Go. Wellesley, Massachusetts: A. K. Peters Ltd., 1994. ISBN 1-56881-032-6.[19]
  • The Dots-and-Boxes Game. Natick, Massachusetts: A. K. Peters Ltd., 2000. ISBN 1-56881-129-2.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Contributors". IEEE Transactions on Information Theory. 42 (3): 1048. May 1996. doi:10.1109/TIT.1996.490574. ISSN 0018-9448.
  2. ^ a b Elwyn Berlekamp, listing at the Department of Mathematics, University of California, Berkeley.
  3. ^ "Putnam Competition Individual and Team Winners". Mathematical Association of America. Retrieved December 12, 2021.
  4. ^ "Elwyn Berlekamp, game theorist and coding pioneer, dies at 78". Berkeley. 2022. Retrieved 2024-02-12.
  5. ^ Contributors, IEEE Transactions on Information Theory 20, #3 (May 1974), p. 408.
  6. ^ "NAE Members Directory – Dr. Elwyn R. Berlekamp". NAE. Retrieved June 16, 2011.
  7. ^ "NAS Membership Directory". NAS. Retrieved June 16, 2011. Search with "Last Name" is Berlekamp.
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 16, 2011.
  9. ^ "Fellows of the American Mathematical Society". American Mathematical Society. Retrieved 2024-02-12.
  10. ^ "IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal Recipients" (PDF). IEEE. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  11. ^ "Golden Jubilee Awards for Technological Innovation". IEEE Information Theory Society. Retrieved July 14, 2011.
  12. ^ Rothstein, Edward (2004-04-03). "Puzzles + Math = Magic". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-02-12.
  13. ^ About Gathering 4 Gardner Foundation Archived 2016-05-07 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b Hirth, Tiago (2020-01-24). "Remembering Elwyn Berlekamp". Gathering 4 Gardner. Retrieved 2024-02-12.
  15. ^ a b The Mathematical Legacy of Martin Gardner by Elwyn Berlekamp, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), September 2, 2014: Partly because of what I had read about them in Martin Gardner’s columns, I was appropriately awestruck in the 1960s when I first met Sol Golomb and then Richard Guy, each of whom had a large influence on my subsequent work. In 1969 Richard introduced me to John Horton Conway, and the three of us immediately began collaborating on a book that eventually became Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays. In the 1970s, I joined Conway in some of his many visits to Gardner’s home on Euclid Avenue, in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Gardner soon became an enthusiastic advocate of our book project, and he previewed various snippets of it in his Scientific American columns.
  16. ^ Berlekamp, Elwyn R., John H. Conway, and Richard K. Guy (1982). Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays Academic Press, ISBN 0120911507.
  17. ^ History of the Gathering Archived 2019-04-18 at the Wayback Machine Gathering 4 Gardner
  18. ^ Golomb, Solomon (1983). "Review: Winning ways for your mathematical plays, by E. R. Berlekamp, J. H. Conway, and R. K. Guy". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.). 8 (1): 108–111. doi:10.1090/s0273-0979-1983-15098-x.
  19. ^ Guy, Richard K.; Nowakowski, Richard J. (1995). "Review: Mathematical Go: Chilling gets the last point, by Elwyn Berlekamp and David Wolfe" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.). 32 (4): 437–441. doi:10.1090/S0273-0979-1995-00601-4.

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