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Karl Menger

Faculty 1946-1971, Doctorate 1983

Karl MengerKarl Menger was a renowned mathematician regarded as one of the founders of distance geometry and is credited with contributions to game theory and social sciences.

While earning his doctorate at the University of Vienna, Menger began work on producing the definition of a curve. In 1922 he submitted a paper which contained a recursive definition of dimension in a separable metric space. Simultaneously and independently, Russian mathematician P.S. Urysohn developed an equivalent definition. The Menger/Urysohn definition became the cornerstone of the theory.

Menger’s career included several professorships, including a brief time at the University of Amsterdam, before accepting a position at his alma mater in 1927. During 1930-31 Menger taught in the United States at Harvard University and the Rice Institute. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Menger joined other European intellectuals who sought refuge in America. In 1937 he took a professorship at the University of Notre Dame and in 1946 was drawn to Chicago to become a professor of mathematics at IIT. He remained on faculty here until 1971.

Perhaps most notable among his accomplishments is Menger’s creation of a three-dimensional analog of the Cantor set (1D) and the Sierpinski square (2D), known as the “Menger sponge”. Additionally, Menger published hundreds of books and papers in various fields of mathematics. In honor of Menger’s distinguished career, he was inducted into the IIT Hall of Fame in 1982 and subsequently awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters and Sciences from the university in 1983. In 2007 IIT held the inaugural Karl Menger Lecture and Awards ceremony, which annually recognizes a student who has exhibited exceptional scholarship.

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