Julia Robinson was a prominent twentieth century American mathematician. The influential work on Hilbert’s tenth problem and decision problems contributed to her fame as the foremost mathematician.
Julia Hall Bowman Robinson was born on December 8, 1919, in St. Louis, Missouri to Ralph Bowers Bowman and Helen. Her family moved a lot first from Missouri to Arizona and then to San Diego when she was young. She received her secondary education from San Diego High. In 1936, she was enrolled at San Diego State University. In 1939, she transferred to University of California, Berkeley and the following year earned a Bachelor’s degree. In the following eight years she further studied mathematics and eventually garnered a doctorate degree. The topic of her dissertation was “Definability and Decision Problems in Arithmetic”.
There is not much known about Robinson’s personal life. Most of what is known is about her academic and professional life. Berkeley offered her a position as a full professor in 1975 which she accepted. However, she taught quarter-time not having inclination toward full-time teaching. She invested most of her time working on mathematical problems and theories.
Hilbert’s tenth problem is one of those highly recognized works that she worked on. An algorithm is required for Hilbert’s tenth problem to determine a Diophantine equation solution. Robinson dedicated two decades in the development of a series of results. This problem was eventually solved by her and other mathematicians such as, Hilary Putnam, Yuri Matiyasevich and Martin Davis. They proved that no such algorithm existed. The popularity of her work is still fresh as her contribution is documented in the form of documentary.
Robinson’s other works include her input in statistics on sequential analysis and a game theory on the fictitious play dynamics in two-player zero-sum games. The game theory was a prize problem at RAND, but Julia couldn’t receive the prize money of $200 as she was an employee there. Besides her contribution to mathematics, Robinson is also known for her services to politics as she supported the 1952 presidential campaign of Adlai Stevenson who was her husband’s cousin. She was seen actively participating in Democratic Party activities. She acted as a campaign manager for Alan Cranston. Cranston ran for his first political office in Contra Costa County.
It’s been reported that at a very young age Robinson suffered from rheumatic fever which damaged her heart considerably. Consequently, in her adult life she suffered from chronic illness which interfered with her routine. In 1941 she married a Berkley professor, Raphael Robinson. Owing to her bad health she could not focus on her work, hence she decided to undergo a surgery to remove a scar tissue from mitral valve which went successfully. This helped her become more active in her life and that also proved beneficial in lifting up her spirit. However, her improving health took a sharp turn and her condition worsened when she was diagnosed with leukemia. The doctor recommended treatment which she underwent for some time. The cancer went in remission for a few months before recurring and claiming Julia’s life on July 30, 1985 in Oakland, California.
Julia Robinson was the first woman to be elected in the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1975. Then she was selected as the President of American Mathematical Society in 1980s becoming the first female president of the organization.