Alonzo Church

Alonzo Church
Alonzo Church

Alonzo Church (1903–1995)
Born June 14, 1903(1903-06-14)
Washington, D.C., USA
Died August 11, 1995(1995-08-11) (aged 92)
Hudson, Ohio, USA
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Mathematics, Logic
Institutions Princeton University 1929–67
UCLA 1967–95
Alma mater Princeton University
Doctoral advisor Oswald Veblen
Doctoral students C. Anthony Anderson
Peter Andrews
George Alfred Barnard
Martin Davis
Leon Henkin
David Kaplan
John George Kemeny
Stephen Kleene
Michael O. Rabin
Hartley Rogers, Jr
J. Barkley Rosser
Nathan Salmon
Dana Scott
Raymond Smullyan
Alan Turing
Known for Lambda calculus
Church–Turing thesis
Frege–Church ontology
Church–Rosser theorem

Alonzo Church (June 14, 1903 – August 11, 1995) was an American mathematician and logician who made major contributions to mathematical logic and the foundations of theoretical computer science. He is best known for the lambda calculus, Church–Turing thesis, Frege–Church ontology, and the Church–Rosser theorem.



Alonzo Church was born on June 14, 1903 in Washington, D.C. where his father, Samuel Robbins Church, was the judge of the Municipal Court for the District of Columbia. The family later moved to Virginia after his father lost this position because of failing eyesight. With help from his uncle, also named Alonzo Church, he was able to attend the Ridgefield School for Boys in Ridgefield, Connecticut.[1] After graduating from Ridgefield in 1920, Church attended Princeton University where he was an exceptional student, publishing his first paper, on Lorentz transformations, and graduating in 1924 with a degree in mathematics. He stayed at Princeton, earning a Ph.D. in mathematics in three years under Oswald Veblen.

He married Mary Julia Kuczinski in 1925 and the couple had three children, Alonzo Church, Jr. (1929), Mary Ann (1933) and Mildred (1938).

After receiving his Ph.D. he taught briefly as an instructor at the University of Chicago and then received a two-year National Research Fellowship. This allowed him to attend Harvard University in 1927–1928 and then both University of Göttingen and University of Amsterdam the following year. He taught at Princeton, 1929–1967, and at the University of California, Los Angeles, 1967–1990. In 1990, he received the Doctor Honoris Causa from the State University of New York at Buffalo in connection with an international symposium in his honor organized by John Corcoran.[2] He had previously received honorary doctorates from Case Western Reserve University (1969) and Princeton University (1985).[3]

He died in 1995 and was buried in Princeton Cemetery.

Mathematical work

Church is best known for the following accomplishments:

  • His proof that the Entscheidungsproblem, which asks for a decision procedure to determine the truth of arbitrary propositions in a mathematical theory, is undecidable for the theory of Peano arithmetic. This is known as Church's theorem.
  • His articulation of what has come to be known as Church–Turing thesis.
  • He was the founding editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic, editing its reviews section until 1979.
  • His creation of the lambda calculus.

The lambda calculus emerged in his famous 1936 paper showing the unsolvability of the Entscheidungsproblem. This result preceded Alan Turing's famous work on the halting problem, which also demonstrated the existence of a problem unsolvable by mechanical means. Church and Turing then showed that the lambda calculus and the Turing machine used in Turing's halting problem were equivalent in capabilities, and subsequently demonstrated a variety of alternative "mechanical processes for computation." This resulted in the Church–Turing thesis.

The lambda calculus influenced the design of the LISP programming language and functional programming languages in general. The Church encoding is named in his honor.


Many of Church's doctoral students have led distinguished careers, including C. Anthony Anderson, Peter B. Andrews, George A. Barnard, William W. Boone, Martin Davis, Alfred L. Foster, Leon Henkin, John G. Kemeny, Stephen C. Kleene, Simon B. Kochen, Maurice L'Abbé, Isaac Malitz, Gary R. Mar, Michael O. Rabin, Nicholas Rescher, Hartley Rogers, Jr., J. Barkley Rosser, Dana Scott, Raymond Smullyan, and Alan Turing.[4] A more complete list of Church's students is available via Mathematics Genealogy Project.


See also


  1. ^ The Ridgefield School for Boys, also known as the Ridgefield School, was a private school that existed from 1907 to 1938. See The Ridgefield School.
  2. ^ Buffalo Logic Colloquium: past conferences
  3. ^ Honorary degrees awarded by Princeton University
  4. ^ "Mathematics Genealogy Project". Retrieved 12 August 2010. 


External links

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