Wacław Sierpiński

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Sierpiński enrolled in the Department of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Warsaw in 1899 and graduated four years later. In 1903, while still at the University of Warsaw, the Department of Mathematics and Physics offered a prize for the best essay from a student on Voronoy's contribution to number theory. Sierpiński was awarded a gold medal for his essay, thus laying the foundation for his first major mathematical contribution. Unwilling for his work to be published in Russian, he withheld it until 1907, when it was published in Samuel Dickstein's mathematical magazine 'Prace Matematyczno-Fizyczne' (Polish: 'The Works of Mathematics and Physics').

After his graduation in 1904, Sierpiński worked as a school teacher of mathematics and physics in Warsaw. However, when the school closed because of a strike, Sierpiński decided to go to Kraków to pursue a doctorate. At the Jagiellonian University in Kraków he attended lectures by Stanisław Zaremba on mathematics. He also studied astronomy and philosophy. He received his doctorate and was appointed to the University of Lwów in 1908.

Contributions to mathematics

In 1907 Sierpiński first became interested in set theory when he came across a theorem that stated that points in the plane could be specified with a single coordinate. He wrote to Tadeusz Banachiewicz (then at Göttingen), asking him how such a result was possible. He received a one-word reply 'Cantor'. Sierpiński began to study set theory and, in 1909, he gave the first ever lecture course devoted entirely to the subject.

Sierpiński maintained an incredible output of research papers and books. During the years 1908 to 1914, when he taught at the University of Lwów, he published three books in addition to many research papers. These books were The Theory of Irrational Numbers (1910), Outline of Set Theory (1912), and The Theory of Numbers (1912).

When World War I began in 1914, Sierpiński and his family were in Russia. To avoid the persecution that was all too common for Polish foreigners, Sierpiński spent the rest of the war years in Moscow working with Nikolai Luzin. Together they began the study of analytic sets. In 1916, Sierpiński gave the first example of an absolutely normal number.

When World War I ended in 1918, Sierpiński returned to Lwów. However shortly after taking up his appointment again in Lwów he was offered a post at the University of Warsaw, which he accepted. In 1919 he was promoted to a professor. He spent the rest of his life in Warsaw.

During the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921), Sierpiński helped break Soviet Russian ciphers for the Polish General Staff's cryptological agency.

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