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Thread: John Selfridge - Rest in Peace

  1. #1
    Moderator Joe O's Avatar
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    John Selfridge - Rest in Peace

    In 1962, John Selfridge proved that 78,557 is a Sierpinski number; he showed that, when k=78,557, all numbers of the form k*2^n+1 have a factor in the covering set {3, 5, 7, 13, 19, 37, 73}. Five years after, he and Sierpiński proposed (but could not prove) the conjecture that 78,557 is the smallest Sierpinski number, and thus the answer to the Sierpinski problem. Seventeen or Bust is currently trying to prove this statement. At this moment 6 from the original 17 possibilities remain.

    Source: RIP John Selfridge

    Obituary: JOHN SELFRIDGE (1927-2010)
    Last edited by Joe O; 11-14-2010 at 08:10 PM. Reason: Added Obituary Notice and restored title
    Joe O

  2. #2
    What a shame. I hadn't heard that he was ill.

    He'll be missed.


    -Louie

  3. #3
    I could not find any additional info about this news through Google, but as an Alaskan I was interested to find out that he was born in Ketchikan, Alaska in 1927 (if Wikipedia is to be believed).

    The search continues...

  4. #4
    Moderator Joe O's Avatar
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    I haven't been able to find any corroboration through google either. I have found an obituary published in the Whittier Daily News on October 31, 2010 for Robert Selfridge who may be his brother:
    Robert was born an identical twin in Long Beach on April 30, 1924. His family soon returned to Ketchikan, Alaska, where Robert and his twin Richard were raised by William and Norah with their other siblings (Bill, Anne, Ethel, and John).
    The emphasis is mine. It would be quite a coincidence if both brothers died at nearly the same time, so the original report may be in error. We will just have to wait and see.
    Last edited by Joe O; 11-14-2010 at 08:13 PM. Reason: Correct Spelling
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  5. #5
    Moderator Joe O's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by enderak View Post
    I could not find any additional info about this news through Google, but as an Alaskan I was interested to find out that he was born in Ketchikan, Alaska in 1927 (if Wikipedia is to be believed). ....]
    The Facebook entry for John Lewis Selfridge also gives his birhplace as Ketchikan, Alaska.
    John Lewis Selfridge</b> (February 17, 1927, <a href="/pages/w/112085555475663">Ketchikan, Alaska</a>), is an <a href="/pages/w/106088762763759">American</a> <a href="/pages/w/105649026136620">mathematician</a> who has contributed to the fields of <a href="/pages/w/112641322080941">analytic number theory</a>, <a href="/pages/w/108067229216007">computational number theory</a>, and <a href="/pages/w/108100369210870">combinatorics</a>.
    There is also this reference.
    Last edited by Joe O; 11-03-2010 at 07:24 PM. Reason: Added another reference
    Joe O

  6. #6
    I received private communications from close family members confirming it was John who passed so this does seem odd.

  7. #7
    Moderator Joe O's Avatar
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    John Selfridge's obituary has been published in The Daily Chronicle on November 11, 2010.

    There is a guestbook here.

    Since the obituary may come down today, I am quoting it here:
    JOHN SELFRIDGE (1927-2010) | Visit Guest Book
    John Selfridge, mathematician, computer pioneer and philanthropist, 83, of DeKalb, Ill., died on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2010, just a week after his mentally-challenged daughter Margaret flew out to celebrate her birthday in his hospital room. John Selfridge, a mathematician's mathematician and a bon vivant's bad-boy, has found his last prime number and sung his last Al Jolsen song.
    Born in Ketchikan, Alaska, the youngest of six children, he earned degrees from the University of Washington and UCLA and taught at various universities and greatly (exponentially?) expanded the Northern Illinois University Math Department during his tenure as chair. He also served as executive editor of Math Reviews. His Number Theory Foundation supported mathematicians, particularly graduate students, to attend conferences and join the larger family of number theorists.
    For the last 10 years, Selfridge lived at the Oak Crest retirement community in DeKalb, regularly leaving for karaoke, math conferences, and ocean cruises. Before falling ill in the year 2000, Selfridge was an "itinerant mathematician," (his tax-preparer's description), visiting family, colleagues and ex-girlfriends all over. Selfridge was a pioneer in utilizing computers. As a graduate student in the 1950s, he used the 13 commands of the early SWAC computer to find two of the then-largest-known prime numbers. In February of this year, another computer search found a very large factor 54 digits long which proved Selfridge's 1964 conjecture that a certain Fermat number was not a prime.
    He was a news junkie and life-long Democrat, often battling the U.S. State Department for denying visas to his friend Paul Erdos and other world-class mathematicians just because they had passports from Eastern Block countries. He is survived by daughters, Margaret and Barbara, an ex-wife and step-daughter, all of California; a host of nephews and nieces he was "the Unc" and many devoted personal attendants. More information about Selfridge's life is available online, at Wikipedia, at his daughter Barbara's Facebook page, and through the American Mathematical Society.
    Selfridge's body has been donated to medical science, and there will be a memorial at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, at Anderson Funeral Home, 2011 S. Fourth St., DeKalb.
    For information, visit www.AndersonFuneralHomeLtd.com or call 815-756-1022.
    In lieu of flowers, donations of any size can be made, tax-deductible, to The Number Theory Foundation, Math Department, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755. Published in Daily Chronicle from November 11 to November 14, 2010
    Joe O

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