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Born: 13 Dec 1887 in Budapest, Hungary Died: 7 Sept 1985 in Palo Alto, California, USA

George Plya (December 13, 1887 September 7, 1985, in Hungarian Plya Gyrgy) was a Hungarian mathematician .

(A) Life
He was born as Plya Gyrgy in Budapest, Hungary to originally Jewish parents Anna Deutsch and Jakab Plya who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1886 . He immigrated to the United States in 1940 . His major contribution is for his work in problem solving . His parents were Anna Deutsch and Jakab Plya who were both Jewish. Anna was from a family who had lived for many generations in Buda, and she had been nineteen years old in 1872 when the towns of Buda, Obuda, and Pest had administratively merged to become the city of Budapest. Although Jakab Plya had the name "Plya" when his son Gyrgy (or George as he was later known) was born, he had only called himself Plya for the five preceding years. Before that his name had been Jakab Pollk but, in order to understand why Jakab Pollk changed his name to Plya, we need to look at both his career and at a little Hungarian history.

As he grew up , he was very frustrated with the practice of having to regularly memorize information. He was an excellent problem solver. Early on his uncle tried to convince him to go into the mathematics field but he wanted to study law like his late father had. After a time at law school he became bored with all the legal technicalities he had to memorize. He tired of that and switched to Biology and the again switched to Latin and Literature, finally graduating with a degree. Yet, he tired of that quickly and went back to school and took math and physics. He found he loved math.

(B) Career

His first job was to tutor Gregor , the young son of a baron . Gregor struggled due to his lack of problem solving skills. Polya (Reimer, 1995) spent hours and developed a method of problem solving that would work for Gregor as well as others in the same situation. Polya (Long, 1996) maintained that the skill of problem was not an inborn quality but, something that could be taught. He was invited to teach in Zurich, Switzerland. There he worked with a Dr. Weber. One day he met the doctors daughter Stella he began to court her and eventually married her. They spent 67 years together. While in Switzerland he loved to take afternoon walks in the local garden. One day he met a young couple also walking and chose another path. He continued to do this yet he met the same couple six more times as he strolled in the garden. He mentioned to his wife how could it be possible to meet them so many times when he randomly chose different paths through the garden. He later did experiments that he called the random walk problem. Several years later he published a paper proving that if the walk continued long enough that one was sure to return to the starting point. In 1940 he and his wife moved to the United States because of their concern for Nazism in Germany (Long, 1996). He taught briefly at Brown University and then, for the remainder of his life, at Stanford University. He quickly became well known for his research and teachings on problem solving. He taught many classes to elementary and secondary classroom teachers on how to motivate and teach skills to their students in the area of problem solving. In 1945 he published the book How to Solve It which quickly became his most prized publication. It sold over one million copies and has been translated into 17 languages. In this text he identifies four basic principles .

In short , he was a professor of mathematics from 1914 to 1940 at ETH Zrich in Switzerland and from 1940 to 1953 at Stanford University carrying on as Stanford Professor Emeritus the rest of his life and career. He worked on a great variety of mathematical topics, including series, number theory, mathematical analysis, geometry, algebra, combinatory, and probability. In his later days, he spent considerable effort on trying to characterize the methods that people use to solve problems, and to describe how problemsolving should be taught and learned. He wrote four books on the subject: How to Solve It, Mathematical Discovery: On Understanding, Learning, and Teaching Problem Solving; Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Volume I: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics, and Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Volume II: Patterns of Plausible Reasoning .