Samuel Eilenberg

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Samuel Eilenberg
Samuel Eilenberg MFO.jpeg
Samuel Eilenberg (1970)
Born (1913-09-30)September 30, 1913
Warsaw, Poland, Russian Empire
Died January 30, 1998(1998-01-30) (aged 84)
New York City, United States
Citizenship American
Nationality Polish, American
Fields Mathematics
Institutions Columbia University
Alma mater University of Warsaw
Doctoral advisor Kazimierz Kuratowski
Karol Borsuk
Doctoral students Jonathan Beck
David Buchsbaum
Kuo-Tsai Chen
Martin Golumbic
Alex Heller
Daniel Kan
William Lawvere
Ramaiyengar Sridharan
Myles Tierney
Known for Eilenberg–Steenrod axioms
Eilenberg swindle
Notable awards Wolf Prize (1986)
Leroy P. Steele Prize (1987)

Samuel Eilenberg (September 30, 1913 – January 30, 1998) was a Polish-born American mathematician who co-founded category theory with Saunders Mac Lane.


He was born in Warsaw, Kingdom of Poland to a Jewish family and died in New York City, United States, where he had spent much of his career as a professor at Columbia University.

He earned his Ph.D. from University of Warsaw in 1936. His thesis advisor was Karol Borsuk. His main interest was algebraic topology. He worked on the axiomatic treatment of homology theory with Norman Steenrod (whose names the Eilenberg–Steenrod axioms bear), and on homological algebra with Saunders Mac Lane. In the process, Eilenberg and Mac Lane created category theory.

Eilenberg was a member of Bourbaki and with Henri Cartan, wrote the 1956 book Homological Algebra,[1] which became a classic.

Later in life he worked mainly in pure category theory, being one of the founders of the field. The Eilenberg swindle (or telescope) is a construction applying the telescoping cancellation idea to projective modules.

Eilenberg contributed to automata theory and algebraic automata theory. In particular, he introduced a model of computation called X-machine and a new prime decomposition algorithm for finite state machines in the vein of Krohn–Rhodes theory.

Eilenberg was also a prominent collector of Asian art. His collection mainly consisted of small sculptures and other artifacts from India, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Central Asia. In 1991-1992, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York staged an exhibition from more than 400 items that Eilenberg had donated to the museum, entitled The Lotus Transcendent: Indian and Southeast Asian Art From the Samuel Eilenberg Collection".[2]

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