Gábor Szegó's student years

In 1994 the journal with Hungarian title Középiskolai Matematikai Lapok, which translated into English is the Mathematical and Physical Journal for Secondary Schools, celebrated 100 years of publication. To mark the occasion the Journal brought out a special issue in English with articles about the Journal and its influence on mathematics and mathematicians in Hungary. In this issue there is an article Remembering the student years assembled by George Marx, Honorary President of the Loránd Eötvös Physical Society. We quote here the part relating to the student years of Gábor Szegó:-

Many prominent physicists and mathematicians, born in Hungary, achieved their famous results abroad, but they remembered their school years, the students journal and student competition contributing to their career.

Gábor (Gabriel) Szegó (1895-1985) was a student of Lipót Fejér, took special care of János (John von) Neumann while he was a high school student. Later he became a professor at Stanford University where he worked together with György (George) Pölya. In the 1950's he initiated mathematical competitions in California following the pattern of the Eötvös competitions.

[For a successful mathematics competition] some sort of preparation is essential to arouse public interest. In Hungary, this was achieved by a (high-school mathematics) journal I remember vividly the time when I participated in, this phase of the Journal (in the years between 1908 and 1912). 1 would eagerly await the arrival of the issue each month and my first priority was to look at the problem section, almost breathlessly, and to start grappling with the problems without delay. The names of the others who were in the same business were quickly known to me, and frequently I read with considerable envy how they had succeeded to solve some problems which I could not handle with complete success, or how they had found a better solution (simpler, more elegant, or wittier) than the one I had sent in.

(Hungarian Problem Book, by E Rapaport, Random House, New York, 1963.)

JOC/EFR March 2006

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