Samuel Eilenberg

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Samuel Eilenberg
Samuel Eilenberg MFO.jpeg
Samuel Eilenberg (1970)
Born(1913-09-30)September 30, 1913
DiedJanuary 30, 1998(1998-01-30) (aged 84)
New York City, United States
Citizenship Russian, Polish, American
Alma mater University of Warsaw
Known for Eilenberg–Steenrod axioms
Eilenberg swindle
Awards Wolf Prize (1986)
Leroy P. Steele Prize (1987)
Scientific career
Fields Mathematics
Institutions Columbia University
Thesis On the Topological Applications of Maps onto a Circle (1936)
Doctoral advisors Kazimierz Kuratowski
Karol Borsuk
Doctoral students Jonathan Beck
David Buchsbaum
Martin Golumbic
Daniel Kan
William Lawvere
Ramaiyengar Sridharan
Myles Tierney

Samuel Eilenberg (September 30, 1913 – January 30, 1998) was a Polish-American mathematician who co-founded category theory (with Saunders Mac Lane) and homological algebra.


Early life and education

He was born in Warsaw, Kingdom of Poland to a Jewish family. He spent much of his career as a professor at Columbia University.

He earned his Ph.D. from University of Warsaw in 1936, with thesis On the Topological Applications of Maps onto a Circle; his thesis advisors were Kazimierz Kuratowski and Karol Borsuk. [1] He died in New York City in January 1998.


Eilenberg's main body of work was in algebraic topology. He worked on the axiomatic treatment of homology theory with Norman Steenrod (whose names the Eilenberg–Steenrod axioms bear), and on homological algebra with Saunders Mac Lane. In the process, Eilenberg and Mac Lane created category theory.

Eilenberg was a member of Bourbaki and, with Henri Cartan, wrote the 1956 book Homological Algebra. [2]

Later in life he worked mainly in pure category theory, being one of the founders of the field. The Eilenberg swindle (or telescope) is a construction applying the telescoping cancellation idea to projective modules.

Eilenberg contributed to automata theory and algebraic automata theory. In particular, he introduced a model of computation called X-machine and a new prime decomposition algorithm for finite state machines in the vein of Krohn–Rhodes theory.

Art collection

Eilenberg was also a prominent collector of Asian art. His collection mainly consisted of small sculptures and other artifacts from India, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Central Asia. In 1991–1992, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York staged an exhibition from more than 400 items that Eilenberg had donated to the museum, entitled The Lotus Transcendent: Indian and Southeast Asian Art From the Samuel Eilenberg Collection. [3] In reciprocity, the Metropolitan Museum of Art donated substantially to the endowment of the Samuel Eilenberg Visiting Professorship in Mathematics at Columbia University. [4]

Selected publications

Saunders Mac Lane and Eilenberg at a conference in July 1992 1-image0.jpg
Saunders Mac Lane and Eilenberg at a conference in July 1992

See also


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