Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians from the Eastern lands contributed greatly to the development of American mathematics and nuclear science. They participated in the Manhattan Project, which produced the first nuclear bomb during the Second World War. The origins of this expertise can be found in the Lviv Polytechnic Institute. This institution became one of the most significant centers of science and technology in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Consequently, Lviv became home to the famous Lviv School of Mathematics, which was created by a group of Polish and Jewish mathematicians who often met at the famous Scottish Café to discuss problems in the field. The school was renowned globally for its productivity and extensive contributions to research.
One of key representatives of the school was Stanisław Ulam (1909-1984), a prominent scientist in the fields of mathematics and nuclear physics. He participated in the Manhattan Project. Ulam was born in Lviv into a wealthy Polish-Jewish family of bankers and industrialists. His grandfather co-designed the building of the Lviv Polytechnic Institute, where Ulam studied mathematics. Ulam migrated to the US just before the Second World War, while almost all of his family perished in the Holocaust. In 1943, he received an invitation to join the Manhattan Project at the secret Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico. In 1951, Ulam and Edward Teller invented the Teller- Ullam design, which remains the basis for all thermonuclear weapons.
In his spare time, Ulam loved to play poker. He played often with his colleague George Kistiakowsky (1900-1982), a Ukrainian-American physical chemistry professor at Harvard. He participated in the Manhattan Project and in the 1950s served as Science Advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In his spare time, Ulam loved to play poker. He played often with his colleague George Kistiakowsky (1900-1982), a Ukrainian-American physical chemistry professor at Harvard. He participated in the Manhattan Project and in the 1950s served as Science Advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kistiakovsky was born in the Kyiv region into a prominent Ukrainian family that originated from various parts of the country. Kistiakowsky also had German roots on his mother’s side. His grandfather was the professor of law at the University of Kyiv, where his father also worked as a professor of legal philosophy. George’s uncle was the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Kistiakovsky’s family was related to Volodymyr Antonovych (1834–1908), a prominent historian, archaeologist, and archivist who is remembered as one of the most significant personalities of the Ukrainian national revival movement. Antonovych was born into a Polish noble Roman Catholic family. As a student, he started to identify as Ukrainian and converted to Orthodox Christianity. George Kistiakowsky emigrated to the United States in 1926 and joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1930. He became a US citizen in 1933. As part of the Manhattan Project, he was placed in charge of ‘X Division’. He was responsible for the development of the highly specialised explosive charges needed for an implosion-type nuclear bomb. He severed his connections with the government in protest against the war in Vietnam and became a leader in the pacifist movement.
Richard Phillips Feynman (1918–1988) was an American theoretical physicist, who also participated in the Manhattan Project. Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his contributions to the field of quantum electrodynamics. He was born in Queens, New York City after his father came to the US from Minsk in Belarus. The young Feynman was strongly influenced by his father. He encouraged Richard to ask “difficult” questions and challenge “common sense”.
Mark Kac (1914–1984) was another prominent Polish-Jewish-American member of the Lviv School of Mathematics. He greatly contributed to the development of probability as a science in the US. He is recognized as the founder of ‘probabilistic number theory’. Kac was born into a Polish-Jewish family in Kremenets, Volhynia. The town hosted a renowned Polish secondary school (Liceum Krzemienieckie), which was established at the beginning of the 19th century. The school was re-established after Poland regained its independence in 1918. Due to this, Kac was able to study at this institution. Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849), one of the greatest Polish poets, was born in 1809 in Kremenets. He learnt English and was an admirer of Tadeusz Kościuszko and America’s democratic, republican, and federal political system. Słowacki believed that the future belonged to the US. Kac completed his PhD in mathematics at the University of Lviv under the direction of Hugo Steinhaus, the father of the Lviv School of Mathematics. He migrated to the US before the Second World War and worked at various universities for several decades. Thanks to him, Cornell University became one of the most important centers for mathematical statistics in the US.