by Kevin Stacey (Science News Officer, Physical Sciences)
A group of scholars including three Nobel laureates will gather at Brown for a week-long series of talks on the future of their fields and honoring the legacy of computer pioneer and scientific polymath John von Neumann. The “Brown University 250th Anniversary Symposium: The Next 250 Years,” May 12-15, 2015, will feature talks in economics, physics, computer science, and brain science.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — John von Neumann was without doubt one of the 20th century’s greatest minds. He is considered to be one of the founders of digital computing, pioneered game theory as a model of decision-making, and made critical contributions in the fields of physics, applied mathematics, and engineering.

Next week, renowned scholars including three Nobel laureates and a Turing Prize winner will give lectures at Brown in economics, physics, computer science, and brain science. Speakers will reflect on what the future may hold for their disciplines, while emphasizing von Neumann’s vision of “computation as a scientific lens.” Fourteen von Neumann lectures will be given over four days, May 12-15, 2015. Each day’s session will include a “sweat box session” — an intensive question-and-answer forum with some of the day’s speakers.

“Von Neumann was dedicated to the idea that we should tackle the hardest problems, working in symbiosis on the most abstract and most practical aspects of the problem in an intra-math, inter-sciences, cross-cultures, interdisciplinary approach,” said Sorin Istrail, the Julie Nguyen Brown Professor of Computational and Mathematical Sciences. “Von Neumann’s seminal research is organically aligned with Brown’s research mission across departments, inspiring us as we focus on the next generation of research problems.”

The week’s talks are free, open to the public, and will be held in Brown’s Center for Information Technology. The lectures will be webcast live. Speakers will include:

  • Kenneth Arrow, winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics;
  • Leon Cooper, Brown professor and winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics;
  • Frank Wilczek, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics;
  • Leslie Valiant, winner of the 2010 ACM Turing Award; and
  • Freeman Dyson, physicist and mathematician, reflecting on his experience as a colleague of von Neumann’s at the Institute for Advanced Study.

The full schedule of 14 lectures, with information about the speakers, is available online.

The symposium was organized by Brown professors Cooper (physics), Istrail (computer science), Stuart Geman (applied mathematics), and Roberto Serrano (economics). Each considers von Neumann a hero and has tried to incorporate his vision into research and teaching. This is the second von Neumann symposium to be held at Brown. The prior event, the kick-off the John von Neumann Distinguished Lecture Series, was held at Brown in 2010.

The event is co-sponsored by Brown’s Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Office of the Vice President for Research, Office of Brown’s 250th Anniversary, Department of Computer Science, Department of Economics, Department of Neuroscience, Department of Physics, Center for Computational Biology, and Department of Biostatistics. It is hosted by the Department of Computer Science.