Nicholas Metropolis

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Nicholas Metropolis
Nicholas Metropolis cropped.PNG
Nicholas Constantine Metropolis

(1915-06-11)June 11, 1915
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedOctober 17, 1999(1999-10-17) (aged 84)
Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Known for
AwardsComputer Pioneer Award (1984)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysicist, Mathematician
InstitutionsLos Alamos National Laboratory

Nicholas Constantine Metropolis (Greek: Νικόλαος Μητρόπουλος;[1] June 11, 1915 – October 17, 1999) was a Greek-American physicist.[2]

Metropolis received his BSc (1937) and PhD in physics (1941, with Robert Mulliken) at the University of Chicago. Shortly afterwards, Robert Oppenheimer recruited him from Chicago, where he was collaborating with Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller on the first nuclear reactors, to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

He arrived in Los Alamos in April 1943, as a member of the original staff of fifty scientists. He came back to Los Alamos in 1948 to lead the group in the Theoretical Division that designed and built the MANIAC I computer in 1952 that was modeled on the IAS machine, and the MANIAC II in 1957.

After World War II[edit]

Metropolis's wartime Los Alamos National Laboratory badge photo.

After World War II, he returned to the faculty of the University of Chicago as an assistant professor. He came back to Los Alamos in 1948 to lead the group in the Theoretical Division that designed and built the MANIAC I computer in 1952 that was modeled on the IAS machine, and the MANIAC II in 1957. (He chose the name MANIAC in the hope of stopping the rash of such acronyms for machine names, but may have, instead, only further stimulated such use.)[3] (John von Neumann thought this acronym was too frivolous.) [4] From 1957 to 1965 he was Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago and was the founding Director of its Institute for Computer Research. In 1965 he returned to Los Alamos where he was made a Laboratory Senior Fellow in 1980.

Monte Carlo method[edit]

At Los Alamos in the late 1940s and early 1950s a group of researchers led by Metropolis, including John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam, developed the Monte Carlo method.[5][6] This is a class of computational approaches that rely on repeated random sampling to compute their results, named in reference to Ulam's relative's love for the casinos of Monte Carlo. Metropolis was deeply involved in the very first use of the Monte Carlo method, rewiring the ENIAC computer to perform simulations of a nuclear core in 1948.[6] In 1953 Metropolis co-authored the first paper on a technique that was central to the method now known as simulated annealing.[7] This landmark paper showed the first numerical simulations of a liquid. The algorithm for generating samples from the Boltzmann distribution was later generalized by W.K. Hastings to become the Metropolis–Hastings algorithm.

In statistical mechanics applications prior to the introduction of the Metropolis algorithm, the method consisted of generating a large number of random configurations of the system, computing the properties of interest (such as energy or density) for each configuration, and then producing a weighted average where the weight of each configuration is its Boltzmann factor, , where is the energy, is the temperature, and is the Boltzmann constant. The key contribution of the Metropolis paper was the idea that

Instead of choosing configurations randomly, then weighting them with exp(−E/kT), we choose configurations with a probability exp(−E/kT) and weight them evenly.

— Metropolis et al., [7]

Associations and honors[edit]

Metropolis was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the American Mathematical Society. In 1987 he became the first Los Alamos employee honored with the title "emeritus" by the University of California. Metropolis was also awarded the Pioneer Medal by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and was a fellow of the American Physical Society.

The Nicholas Metropolis Award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Work in Computational Physics is awarded annually by the American Physical Society.[8]

Acting career[edit]

Metropolis played the part of a scientist in the Woody Allen film Husbands and Wives (1992).[9]

Personal life[edit]

Metropolis had a son, Christopher, and two daughters, Penelope and Katharine. He was an avid skier and tennis player until his mid-seventies. He died at a nursing home in Los Alamos, New Mexico.[10]


In his memoirs,[11] Stanislaw Ulam remembers that a small group, including himself, Metropolis, Calkin, Konopinski, Kistiakowsky, Teller and von Neumann, spent several evenings at Los Alamos playing poker. They played for very small sums, but: "Metropolis once described what a triumph it was to win ten dollars from John von Neumann, author of a famous treatise on game theory. He then bought his book for five dollars and pasted the other five inside the cover as a symbol of his victory." In another passage of his book, Ulam describes Metropolis as "a Greek-American with a wonderful personality."

Erdős number[edit]

Metropolis has an Erdős number of 2 and he enabled Richard Feynman to have an Erdős number of 3.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ΒΑΡΒΟΓΛΗΣ, Χ (March 16, 2008). Ελληνική σφραγίδα στο πρώτο μηχανοργανωμένο πείραμα. Athens, Greece. Retrieved December 6, 2012. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ Metropolis, Nicholas Constantine (1915–1999) Eric Weisstein's World of Biography
  3. ^ Balazs, N. L.; Browne, J. C.; Louck, J. D.; Strottman, D. S. (October 2000). "Obituary: Nicholas Constantine Metropolis". Physics Today. 53 (10): 100–101. Bibcode:2000PhT....53j.100B. doi:10.1063/1.1325208.
  4. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "MANIAC". YouTube.
  5. ^ Nicolas Metropolis.The Beginning of the Monte Carlo Method. Los Alamos Science, No. 15, Page 125.
  6. ^ a b Haigh, Thomas; Priestley, Mark; Rope, Crispin (2014). "Los Alamos Bets on ENIAC: Nuclear Monte Carlo Simulations, 1947-1948". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 36 (3): 42–63. doi:10.1109/MAHC.2014.40. S2CID 17470931.
  7. ^ a b N. Metropolis; A.W. Rosenbluth; M.N. Rosenbluth; A.H. Teller & E. Teller (1953). "Equation of State Calculations by Fast Computing Machines". Journal of Chemical Physics. 21 (6): 1087–1092. Bibcode:1953JChPh..21.1087M. doi:10.1063/1.1699114. OSTI 4390578. S2CID 1046577.
  8. ^ Nicholas Metropolis Award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Work in Computational Physics
  9. ^ Nicholas Metropolis at IMDb
  10. ^ Nick Metropolis dead at 84. Los Alamos National Laboratory Daily News Bulletin. Oct 19, 1999.
  11. ^ S. M. Ulam, Adventures of a mathematician, California University press
  12. ^ "My Erdős Number is Five".
  13. ^ The History of Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing

External links[edit]