A group of identical blocks – joined edge to edge as though they’ve been plucked from a Rubik’s cube – forms a geometric configuration called a “polyomino.” The term, coined by Jewish American mathematician Solomon Golomb in 1953, served as inspiration for Tetris, one of the world’s first mainstream video games.
While less ingrained in popular culture, his other discoveries during his time at University of Southern California helped usher in the age of digital communications. The notion of cyber security is rooted in Golomb’s experiments using cryptography and “nonlinear shift registers” – sets of ones and zeroes in which the order of numbers shifts with each repetition – to send and secure messages.
The concept is still used today in cell phones, GPS systems and the websites we browse. “Forty years ago, I don’t know anyone who anticipated the Internet,” he said in 2015, “and yet now we can’t imagine a world without it.”