David Blackwell was a pioneer in the field of statistics and the mathematical foundations of game theory, which is the study of how and why people make decisions. He was the first African-American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, the first African-American tenured faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, and the seventh African-American to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics.
Born in 1919 in Central City, Kentucky, Blackwell was a math prodigy who graduated from high school at the age of 16 and earned his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1941 at the age of 22. The following year, he studied mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study which was located on the campus of Princeton University but was denied the opportunity to teach at Princeton as he desired because of the school’s discriminatory policies. He then went on to hold posts at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA; Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) in Atlanta, GA; and Howard University in Washington, DC, from 1941 until 1954. In 1954 he accepted a post at University of California, Berkeley, where remained for the duration of his academic career, retiring in 1988.
Blackwell faced significant discrimination throughout his career due to his race, but he never let it deter him from his work. He continued to make important contributions to the field of statistics and game theory and was a mentor to many young black mathematicians. He is best known for his work on Bayesian statistics and his famous Blackwell's Theorem.
Blackwell died on July 8, 2010.
On October 3, 2014, President Obama posthumously awarded Dr. Blackwell the National Medal of Science.
Materials needed:
What can you spy with your mathematical eye? Who’s ready for some math fun? Let’s go!
Instructions:
This activity is a simple and fun way to introduce the concept of probability to young children and how it is used in mathematics. Explain to the children that probability is the study of how likely something is to happen and that David Blackwell was a mathematician who made important contributions to the field of probability.
Probability is the extent to which an event is likely to occur, measured by the ratio of the favorable cases to the whole number of cases possible.
For example, if you flip a coin, there are two possible outcomes: heads or tails. If you want to calculate the probability of getting heads, you would count the number of favorable outcomes (heads) and divide it by the total number of possible outcomes (heads or tails), resulting in a probability of 1/2 or 50%.