The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Donald Knuth

Donald Ervin Knuth (born January 10, 1938) (Chinese name: 高德纳, pinyin: Gāo Dn) is a renowned computer scientist and professor emeritus at Stanford University.

Knuth (pronounced "Ka-NOOTH" [1]) is best known as the author of the multi-volume The Art of Computer Programming, one of the most highly respected references in the computer science field. He practically created the field of rigorous analysis of algorithms, and made many seminal contributions to several branches of theoretical computer science. He is the creator of the TEX typesetting system and of the METAFONT font design system, and pioneered the concept of literate programming.


Education and academic work

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he received his bachelor's degree and master's degree in mathematics in 1960 at the Case Institute of Technology (now known as Case Western Reserve University). In 1963, he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, where he became a professor and began work on The Art of Computer Programming, originally planned as a seven-volume series. In 1968, he published the first volume. That same year, he joined the faculty of Stanford University.

In 1971, Knuth was the recipient of the first ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award. He has received various other awards including the Turing Award, the National Medal of Science, the John von Neumann Medal and the Kyoto Prize. After producing the third volume of his series in 1976, he expressed such frustration with the antiquated state of publishing tools that he took time out to work on phototypesetting and created the TeX and METAFONT tools.

In recognition of Knuth's contributions to the field of computer science, in 1990 he was awarded the singular academic title of Professor of the Art of Computer Programming, which has since been revised to Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming.

In 1992 he became an associate of the French Academy of Sciences. Also that year, he retired from regular research and teaching at Stanford University in order to finish The Art of Computer Programming. In 2003 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. As of 2004, the first three volumes of his series have been re-issued, and Knuth is currently working on volume four, excerpts of which are released periodically on his website. Meanwhile, Knuth gives informal lectures a few times a year at Stanford University, which he calls Computer Musings.


Knuth is a famous programmer known for his geek humor:

  • He pays a finder's fee of $2.56 for any typos/mistakes discovered in his books, because "256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar". (His bounty for errata in 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated, is, however, $3.16).
  • Version numbers of his TEX software approach the transcendental number π, that is versions increment in the style 3, 3.1, 3.14 and so on. Version numbers of Metafont approach the number e similarly.
  • He once warned users of his software, "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it." (source)

In addition to his writings on computer science, Knuth is also the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (1991), ISBN 0895792524, in which he attempts to examine the Bible by a process of "stratified random sampling," namely an analysis of chapter 3, verse 16 of each book. Each verse is accompanied by a rendering in calligraphic art, contributed by a group of calligraphers under the leadership of Hermann Zapf.

Knuth published his first "scientific" article in a school magazine in 1957 under the title "Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures." In it, he defined the fundamental unit of length as the thickness of MAD magazine #26, and named the fundamental unit of force "whatmeworry". MAD magazine bought the article and published it in the June 1957 issue.


Knuth's hobbies include music, and specifically playing the organ. He has a pipe organ installed in his home. Knuth disclaims any particular talent in the instrument, however. He does not use e-mail, saying that he used it from about 1975 until January 1, 1990, and that was enough for one lifetime. He finds it more efficient to respond to correspondence in "batch mode", such as one day every three months, to be sent by postal mail.

He is married to Jill Knuth, who published a book on liturgy titled 'Banner without Words', published by Resource Publications in 1986. They have two children.

See also

Interviews, Q&A

External links

Last updated: 06-02-2005 01:58:59
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