Profile: Andre Weil; June 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 2 Page(s)
In 1939 a 33-year-old French mathematician proved that a profound conjecture about the behavior displayed by prime numbers as they meander toward infinity holds true for certain limited but crucial cases. The achievement, which is known as the proof of the Riemann hypothesis on the Zeta function for field functions, is a jewel of modern number theory. It is all the more remarkable because its author first scribbled it down in a French military prison.
This is only one in a series of extraordinary incidents in the life of Andr. Weil, who eventually left his prison cell to become one of the 20th century's greatest mathematicians. Yet so isolated is mathematics from the rest of human culture that Weil, now a professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., remains largely unrecognized outside his field. When Weil's autobiography, The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, was published three years ago, not a single nonmathematical publication reviewed it. Weil's younger sister, Simone Weil, a philosopher and political activist, is more widely known in spite of the fact that she died more than 50 years ago.