Mikhail Krawtchouk: Short Biography

See Main dates of M. Kravchuk's life and work
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The number of classical orthogonal polynomials systems of a discrete variable is highly restricted, hence each discoverer of such an OPS deserves to be known to the scientific community not only as a mathematician but also as an individual. That's why it is very strange to find only some morsels of information about the author of Sur une generalisation des polynomes d'Hermite published in 1929 which initiated a new stage in the theory of orthogonal polynomials.

The reason is both simple and tragic.

Mykhailo Pilipovich (in Ukrainian; in Russian his name is sounded Mikhail Philippovich) Krawtchouk was born on September 27, 1892 in the small village of Chovnitsy (Western Ukraine). After graduating from gymnasium he entered Kiev St. Vladimir University, obtaining his first diploma degree in 1914 --- on the eve of the First World War. Thus the young mathematician had to move to Moscow because of the University evacuation. On September 5, 1917 he gave his first lecture.

After the 1917 revolution, M. Krawtchouk worked in various Kiev universities, institutes, gymnasia, then for two years of the civil war (1919-1921) he was the head of a rural school near Kiev.

When the situation in the then USSR became relatively stabilized, Krawtchouk got the opportunity for fruitful scientific work. The title of his doctoral thesis was On Quadratic Forms and Linear Transform (1924). He took part in the International Mathematical Congresses in Toronto (1924) and Bologna (1928), had close contacts with Hadamard, Hilbert, Courant, Tricomi, i.a. In 1929 he became a full member of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

The list of M. Krawtchouk's scientific works contains about 180 titles including such branches of mathematics as the theory of permutation matrices, theory of algebraic, transcendental, differential and integral equations, introduction and use of polynomials associated with the binomial distribution (Krawtchouk polynomials), etc. Moreover his efforts were applied in the fields of philosophy, history of mathematics and mathematical education. It is especially important for the independent Ukraine that it was M. Krawtchouk who was in charge of editing the first three-volume dictionary of Ukrainian mathematical terminology. (Having a knowledge of French, German, Italian, Polish and, of course, Russian, he delivered lectures and wrote articles mostly in Ukrainian).

He was the brilliant lecturer who inspired many outstanding followers (e.g., Sergey Korolev, the future leader of the Soviet space programme). Dr. Gita Kaganskaya who graduated from Kiev Polytechnical Institute in 1939 and then worked for many years in Soviet electronic industry recollects:

I attended the lectures by Professor Krawtchouk in 1935--1936. Being short-sighted I always took the fore places in the enormous physical lecture-hall. Mikhail Philippovich had a habit to invite the students do doshki (to the blackboard in Ukrainian) to solve the problems. The others were frightened of it but I wasn't and he called me every lecture. Thus I had a nickname Krawtchouk's assistant.

He was very beautiful man, rather a stout but agile. His lectures could be the best agitation for the Ukrainian language -- it was clear to his audience what a wonderful is this tongue.

Anyone knowing even a little Soviet history of the thirties can conclude that Krawtchouk could not avoid the Great Terror. During the Orwellian "hours of hatred" in 1937 he was being denounced as a "Polish spy", "bourgeois nationalist" etc. In 1938, he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years of confinement and 5 years of exile.

Academician Krawtchouk, the author of the results which became part of the world's mathematical knowledge, outstanding lecturer, the member of the French, German and other Mathematical Societies died on March 9, 1942 in Kolyma branch of the GULAG (North-Eastern Siberia) more than 6 months short of his 50th birthday.

M. Krawtchouk was officially rehabilitated in 1956 and restored as a member of the Academy of Sciences only in March 1992, 50 years after his death.


The text above is based on the materials granted by Professor Nina Virchenko (Dept. of Mathematics No. 1, National Technical University of Ukraine (KPI), 37, Peremogi Avenue, 252056, Kiev, the Ukraine).


The First Computer has been Invented in Kolyma? by Anatoly Smirnov (in Russian)

Krawtchouk in GULAG by Olga Unguryan (in Russian)

Fate of Mikhail Krawtchouk by Sergey Gupalo (in Russian)

Scientist with the Face of Christ by Eugen Sverstyuk (in Ukrainian)

See also: Mykhailo Pilypovich Krawtchouk (in Ukrainian))

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