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The boy who fascinated in Magic became a Mathematician.

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

Persi Diaconis son of professional musicians, who learnt violin from the age of five to fourteen. He learnt himself magic tricks from the age of five and, as he grew up, this was a hobby which came to dominate his daily life. He attended George Washington High School in New York City, where he joined the Magic Club.

In fact he met Martin Gardner because of their shared interest in magic and Gardner later used some of the ideas that Diaconis showed him in his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American. Diaconis had been due to graduate from George Washington High School at age fifteen but, when he was fourteen years old, Dai Vernon the famous Canadian born sleight-of-hand expert who lived in New York invited Diaconis to join him on one of his American tours performing magic shows. Diaconis left school without telling his parents and went with Dai Vernon. Diaconis left Dai Vernon after a couple of years and worked on his own making money playing clubs in Chicago.


One of his friends, Charles Radin, was a mathematical physicist at the University of Texas and they had gone together one day to a bookshop. Radin said that William Feller's Introduction to Probability Theory and its Applications was the best book there is from which to learn probability. In order to learn more mathematics, Diaconis began to study at the City College of New York. He started taking evening classes in 1968 and paid his way by continuing to make money from his magic shows. Soon he decided to take a degree and was awarded a B.S. Mathematics by the City College of New York in January 1971. He wanted to continue to graduate school but only a few places took mid-year applications. Harvard was one such place and Diaconis wanted to go there but doubted that the Mathematics Department would take a student with a City College degree. Martin Gardner, however, was able to help him at this time.

Persi was very anxious to get into Harvard. The head of the statistics department at Harvard was Frederick Mosteller, who is a magic buff. He was very active in magic, and his picture has been on the cover of magic magazines. Martin Gardner knew Mosteller slightly, so he wrote him a letter and said, "This young student is one of the best card mechanics in the country” In replay letter right away from Mosteller, which said, "If he's willing to major in statistics, I can get him into Harvard." So he got in, got his Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard. After the award of his doctorate, Diaconis was appointed as an Assistant Professor of Statistics at Stanford University. He was promoted to Associate Professor of Statistics at Stanford in 1979 and, two years later, he became a full professor. While at Stanford he kept his contacts with Harvard, being a Visiting Professor in the Harvard Department of Statistics in 1981-82 and in the Harvard Department of Mathematics in 1985-86. In 1987 he left Stanford when he was appointed as George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics at Harvard. After spending 1996-98 as David Duncan Professor at Cornell University, Diaconis returned to Stanford where he was appointed Mary V Sunseri Professor in the Department of Statistics and the Department of Mathematics. In addition, Diaconis has acted as a consultant to Scientific American (1972-80), the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (1974), the Bell Telephone Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey (1974-), the Stanford Linear Accelerator (1977-), and Teledyne, Cryptography Division (1993-99).

It would be difficult to give a summary of the papers that Diaconis has written; his publication list contains around 200 items. His remarkable latest book is Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas that Animate Great Magic Tricks which he has co-authored with Ron Graham.Published by Princeton University Press. Persi Diaconis :Born on 31 st January 1945. Today 31st January is the Birth day of the boy who fascinated in Magic became a Mathematician. #MatheMagic #MathsForLife #cosmicmaths #Mathematicians

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