Rózsa Péter : Inventor of Recursive Function Theory



17 February 1905 – 16 February 1977

Rózsa Péter, a Hungarian mathematician, is widely acclaimed for her most significant work on recursion theory.

In 1922, Péter attended the Eötvös Loránd University to study chemistry but later, on realization of her real interest for mathematics, she changed her subject, and graduated in 1927. Some world-famous mathematicians Kürschák and Lipót Fejér were her class fellows and here she found her longtime collaborator László Kalmár, who first informed her about the subject of recursive functions. On completion of her study she started earning a living by tutoring mathematics, during which she studied recursive functions used by Gödel out of which she developed her own, diverse proofs on the subject. In 1932, she submitted a paper on the recursive functions at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich. She did her Ph.D. summa cum laude in 1935 and in 1937 she became a contributing editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic.

Despite being a bright mathematics scholar, Rózsa Péter was forbidden from university teaching positions by the Fascist laws but she continued her mathematical research and investigations. In 1943, she published her book ‘Playing with Infinity’ consisting of the discovery on how the concept of infinity enters into mathematics. In 1951, she published Péter’s monograph, Recursive Functions, which earned her Hungary’s Kossuth Award. In 1955, she became a professor at Eötvös Loránd University, where she continued teaching and assisting research until retirement in 1975, the year she published Recursive Functions in Computer Theory. She could have been more famous and widely and internationally known if she weren’t an Eastern European scientists of the time, whose contribution were largely ignored and kept away from wide circulation and international exposure.

“I love mathematics not only for its technical applications, but principally because it is beautiful; because man has breathed his spirit of play into it, and because it has given him his greatest game – the encompassing of the infinite.” – Rózsa Péter