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Donald Knuth

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Donald Knuth

Donald Ervin Knuth
Donald Knuth at a reception for the Open Content Alliance, October 25, 2005
Born (1938-01-10) January 10, 1938
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US
Nationality American
Fields Mathematics
Computer science
Institutions Stanford University
Alma mater Case Institute of Technology (B.S.; M.S., 1960)
California Institute of Technology (PhD, 1963)
Thesis Finite Semifields and Projective Planes (1963)
Doctoral advisor Marshall Hall, Jr.
Doctoral students Leonidas J. Guibas
Michael Fredman
Scott Kim
Vaughan Pratt
Robert Sedgewick
Jeffrey Vitter
Andrei Broder
Known for The Art of Computer Programming
Knuth–Morris–Pratt algorithm
Knuth–Bendix completion algorithm
Robinson–Schensted–Knuth correspondence
Notable awards Grace Murray Hopper Award (1971)
Turing Award (1974)
National Medal of Science (1979)
John von Neumann Medal (1995)
Harvey Prize (1995)
Kyoto Prize (1996)
Computer History Museum Fellow (1998)[1]
Faraday Medal (2011)
BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2010)
Donald E. Knuth

Donald Ervin Knuth ([2] ; born January 10, 1938) is an American computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford University.[3]

He is the author of the multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming.[4] Knuth has been called the "father of the analysis of algorithms".[5] He contributed to the development of the rigorous analysis of the computational complexity of algorithms and systematized formal mathematical techniques for it. In the process he also popularized the asymptotic notation. In addition to fundamental contributions in several branches of theoretical computer science, Knuth is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system, the related METAFONT font definition language and rendering system, and the Computer Modern family of typefaces.

As a writer and scholar,[6] Knuth created the

External links

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  • . A retrospective of Knuth's life and work, with some rare, recent photos.


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See also


  • xiv+657 pp.
  • [43]
  • Donald E. Knuth, The Stanford GraphBase: A Platform for Combinatorial Computing (New York, ACM Press) 1993. second paperback printing 2009. ISBN 0-321-60632-9
  • Donald E. Knuth, 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions), 1990. ISBN 0-89579-252-4
  • Donald E. Knuth, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About (Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI Lecture Notes no 136), 2001. ISBN 1-57586-326-X
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  5. , ISBN 1-57586-382-0 (paperback)
  6. , ISBN 1-57586-248-4 (paperback).
  7. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Design of Algorithms[40] (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 191), 2010. ISBN 1-57586-583-1 (cloth), ISBN 1-57586-582-3 (paperback)
  8. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Fun and Games[41] (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 192), 2011. ISBN 978-1-57586-585-0 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57586-584-3 (paperback)
  9. Donald E. Knuth, Companion to the Papers of Donald Knuth[42] (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 202), 2011. ISBN 978-1-57586-635-2 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57586-634-5 (paperback)

Selected papers

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Computers and Typesetting

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The Art of Computer Programming

A short list of his works:[39]


Honors bestowed on Knuth include:

Knuth was elected as a Fellow (first class of Fellows) of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics in 2009 for his outstanding contributions to mathematics.[28] He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.[29] In 2012, he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[30]

Knuth was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. In 1992, he became an associate of the French Academy of Sciences. Also that year, he retired from regular research and teaching at Stanford University in order to finish The Art of Computer Programming. In 2003 he was elected as a foreign member of the Royal Society.

In recognition of Knuth's contributions to the field of computer science, in 1990 he was awarded the one-of-a-kind academic title of Professor of The Art of Computer Programming, which has since been revised to Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming.

In 1971, Knuth was the recipient of the first ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award. He has received various other awards including the Turing Award, the National Medal of Science, the John von Neumann Medal, and the Kyoto Prize.


At the TUG 2010 Conference, Knuth announced an XML-based successor to TeX, titled "iTeX" (pronounced , with a bell ringing), which would support features such as arbitrarily scaled irrational units, 3D printing, animation, and stereophonic sound.[25][26][27]

To demonstrate the concept, Knuth intentionally referred "Circular definition" and "Definition, circular" to each other in the index of The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 1.

Knuth published his first "scientific" article in a school magazine in 1957 under the title "Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures." In it, he defined the fundamental unit of length as the thickness of Mad No. 26, and named the fundamental unit of force "whatmeworry." Mad published the article in issue No. 33 (June 1957).[24]

He once warned a correspondent, "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."[23]

Knuth used to pay a finder's fee of $2.56 for any typographical errors or mistakes discovered in his books, because "256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar", and $0.32 for "valuable suggestions". According to an article in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review, these Knuth reward checks are "among computerdom's most prized trophies". Knuth had to stop sending real checks in 2008 due to bank fraud, and instead now gives each error finder a "certificate of deposit" from a publicly listed balance in his fictitious "Bank of San Serriffe".[22]

"Nested parens"—Donald Knuth and Jacob Appelbaum and Donald Knuth


Knuth gives informal lectures a few times a year at Stanford University, which he called Computer Musings. He is a visiting professor at the Oxford University Department of Computer Science in the United Kingdom and an Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College.[20][21]

Computer musings

In 2006, Knuth was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery in December that year and started "a little bit of radiation therapy... as a precaution but the prognosis looks pretty good", as he reported in his video autobiography.[19]

Health concerns

Subsequently he was invited to give a set of lectures on his project, resulting in another book, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, where he published the lectures "God and Computer Science".

In addition to his writings on computer science, Knuth, a Lutheran,[17] is also the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated,[18] in which he examines the Bible by a process of systematic sampling, namely an analysis of chapter 3, verse 16 of each book. Each verse is accompanied by a rendering in calligraphic art, contributed by a group of calligraphers under the leadership of Hermann Zapf.

Religious beliefs and work

In 1995, Knuth wrote the foreword to the book A=B by Marko Petkovsek, Herbert Wilf and Doron Zeilberger.[16] Knuth is also an occasional contributor of language puzzles to Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics.

He is also the author of Surreal Numbers,[15] a mathematical novelette on John Conway's set theory construction of an alternate system of numbers. Instead of simply explaining the subject, the book seeks to show the development of the mathematics. Knuth wanted the book to prepare students for doing original, creative research.

Other works

As of 2013, the first three volumes and part one of volume four of his series have been published.[14] Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science 2nd ed., which originated with an expansion of the mathematical preliminaries section of Volume 1 of TAoCP, has also been published.

After producing the third volume of his series in 1976, he expressed such frustration with the nascent state of the then newly developed electronic publishing tools (especially those that provided input to phototypesetters) that he took time out to work on typesetting and created the TeX and METAFONT tools.

Computer science was then taking its first hesitant steps. "It was a totally new field," Knuth recalls, "with no real identity. And the standard of available publications was not that high. A lot of the papers coming out were quite simply wrong. [...] So one of my motivations was to put straight a story that had been very badly told."

The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP)


Knuth then left this position to join the Stanford University faculty.

Just before publishing the first volume of The Art of Computer Programming, Knuth left Caltech to accept employment with the Institute for Defense Analyses' Communications Research Division, then situated on the Princeton University campus, which was performing mathematical research in cryptography to support the National Security Agency.

He accepted a commission to write a book on computer programming language compilers. While working on this project, Knuth decided that he could not adequately treat the topic without first developing a fundamental theory of computer programming, which became The Art of Computer Programming. He originally planned to publish this as a single book. As Knuth developed his outline for the book, he concluded that he required six volumes, and then seven, to thoroughly cover the subject. He published the first volume in 1968.

On receiving his PhD, Knuth joined Caltech's faculty as an associate professor.

Early work

In 1963, he earned a PhD in mathematics (his advisor was Marshall Hall) from the California Institute of Technology.[13]

Knuth had a difficult time choosing physics over music as his major at Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University). He also joined Beta Nu Chapter of the Theta Chi fraternity. While studying physics at the Case Institute of Technology, Knuth was introduced to the IBM 650, one of the early mainframes. After reading the computer's manual, Knuth decided to rewrite the assembly and compiler code for the machine used in his school, because he believed he could do it better.[10] In 1958, Knuth constructed a program based on the value of each player that could help his school basketball team win the league. This was so novel a proposition at the time that it got picked up and published by Newsweek and also covered by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.[10] Knuth was one of the founding editors of the Engineering and Science Review, which won a national award as best technical magazine in 1959.[11] He then switched from physics to mathematics, and in 1960 he received his bachelor of science degree, simultaneously being given a master of science degree by a special award of the faculty who considered his work exceptionally outstanding.[10][12]


Knuth was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where his father owned a small printing business and taught bookkeeping at Milwaukee Lutheran High School, where Donald enrolled, earning achievement awards. He applied his intelligence in unconventional ways, winning a contest when he was in eighth grade by finding over 4,500 words that could be formed from the letters in "Ziegler's Giant Bar"; the judges had only about 2,500 words on their master list. This won him a television set for his school and enough candy bars for his entire school.[9]

Early life


  • Early life 1
  • Education 2
  • Early work 3
  • Writings 4
    • The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP) 4.1
    • Other works 4.2
    • Religious beliefs and work 4.3
  • Health concerns 5
  • Computer musings 6
  • Humor 7
  • Awards 8
  • Works 9
    • The Art of Computer Programming 9.1
    • Computers and Typesetting 9.2
    • Selected papers 9.3
  • Gallery 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Bibliography 13
  • External links 14


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