Photo of Peter D. Lax

Peter D. Lax

  • National Medal of Science
  • Mathematics And Computer Science

For his outstanding, innovative and profound contributions to the theory of partial differential equations, applied mathematics, numerical analysis and scientific computation.

He is prolific in the world of mathematics. Peter D. Lax has made numerous discoveries and contributions in the fields of computational mathematics, integrable systems, solitonic physics and fluid dynamics and shock waves.

He is credited with a number of methods and theories including the Lax-Milgram Lemma, the Lax Equivalence Theorem, the Lax-Friedrichs Scheme, the Lax-Wendroff Scheme, the Lax Entropy Condition and the Lax-Levermore Theory.

“In mathematics, your brain is wired somewhat differently,” he said of his field.

Lax was born in Budapest, where he lived until he was 15. In 1941, his family fled for New York City just days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was later drafted and in 1945 he was sent to the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory to work on the Manhattan Project.

“The development of computers was in a large part motivated by the needs of the atomic weapons program,” Lax said of the secret program. “You can’t build an atomic bomb just by trial and error — you have to be able to quickly calculate how the design will work.”

By Christine Ayala