John Conway

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John Conway
John Conway
Born December 26, 1937
Died April 11, 2020
Residence United States
Nationality British
Institutions Princeton University
Alma mater University of Cambridge

John Horton Conway (born December 26, 1937, Liverpool, England; died April 11, 2020, New Brunswick, New Jersey) was a prolific mathematician active in the theory of finite groups, knot theory, number theory, combinatorial game theory and coding theory. He also contributed to many branches of recreational mathematics, notably the invention of the Game of Life, and was the leader of the JHC group.

Conway was emeritus professor of mathematics at Princeton University. He studied at Cambridge, where he started research under Harold Davenport. He has an Erdős number of one. He received the Berwick Prize (1971), was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (1981), and was the first recipient of the Pólya Prize (LMS) (1987).


Conway's parents were Agnes Boyce and Cyril Horton Conway. John had two older sisters, Sylvia and Joan. Cyril Conway was a chemistry laboratory assistant. John became interested in mathematics at a very early age and his mother Agnes recalled that he could recite the powers of two when aged four years. John's young years were difficult for he grew up in Britain at a time of wartime shortages. At primary school John was outstanding and he topped almost every class. At the age of eleven his ambition was to become a mathematician.

After leaving secondary school, Conway entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge to study mathematics. He was awarded his BA in 1959 and began to undertake research in number theory supervised by Harold Davenport. Having solved the open problem posed by Davenport on writing numbers as the sums of fifth powers, Conway began to become interested in infinite ordinals. It appears that his interest in games began during his years studying at Cambridge, where he became an avid backgammon player spending hours playing the game in the common room. He was awarded his doctorate in 1964 and was appointed as Lecturer in Study at the University of Cambridge. He left Cambridge in 1986 to take up the appointment to the John von Neumann Chair of Mathematics at Princeton University.

Conway resided for many years in Princeton, New Jersey, United States with his wife and youngest son. He has six other children from his two previous marriages, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Conway died in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, of complications from COVID-19 at age 82 on April 11, 2020; his name was among those listed on the New York Times' front page of May 24, 2020, where he was described as “a magical genius”.[1]

Contributions to Life

Conway is the inventor of Conway's Game of Life, one of the earliest-studied and most well-known examples of a cellular automaton. He discovered many of its most fundamental and important patterns, including blinker, block, lightweight spaceship, pulsar, and R-pentomino. He was the first person to enumerate all still lifes with 7 or fewer cells.


He has (co-)written several books, including Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays with Richard K. Guy and Elwyn Berlekamp. Conway's biography, Genius at Play (written by Siobhan Roberts), was published in 2015.

Patterns found by John Conway


  1. Apple Bottom (May 24, 2020). Re: John Horton Conway (discussion thread) at the forums

Further references

External links