AlexanderM. Ostrowski (1893-1986): His life, work, and ...
Document source : www.cs.purdue.edu
D. A. Grave
After a few personal interviews with Alexan-
der, Grave became convinced of Alexander's ex-
ceptional abilities and accepted him -- then a boy
of 15 years -- as a full-fledged member of his sem-
inar. Alexander attended the seminar for three
years while, at the same time, completing his stud-
ies at the School of Commerce. During this time,
with Grave's assistance, he wrote his first mathe-
matical paper, a long memoir on Galois fields, writ-
ten in Ukrainian, which a few years later (in 1913)
appeared in print.
When the time came to enroll at the university,
Ostrowski was denied entrance to the University
of Kiev on purely bureaucratic grounds: he graduated from the School of
Commerce and not from High School! This prompted Grave to write to
E. Landau and K. Hensel and to ask for their help. Both responded favor-
ably, inviting Ostrowski to come to Germany. Ostrowski opted for Hensel's
offer to study with him at the University of Marburg. Two years into his
stay at Marburg, another disruptive event occurred -- the outbreak of World
War I -- which left Ostrowski a civil prisoner. Only thanks to the interven-
tion of Hensel, the restrictions on his movements were eased somewhat,
and he was allowed to use the university library. That was all he really
needed. During this period of isolation, Ostrowski almost single-handedly
developed his now famous theory of valuation on fields.
Alexander, ca. 1915
After the war was over and peace was
restored between the Ukraine and Germany,
Ostrowski in 1918 moved on to Göttingen,
the world center of mathematics at that time.
There, he soon stood out among the stu-
dents by his phenomenal memory and his al-
ready vast and broadly based knowledge of
the mathematical literature. One student later
recalled that the tedious task of literature
search, in Göttingen, was extremely simple:
all one had to do was to ask the Russian stu-
dent Alexander Ostrowski and one got the
answer -- instantly and exhaustively! At one
time, he even had to come to the rescue of David Hilbert, when during
one of his lectures Hilbert needed, as he put it, a beautiful theorem whose
author unfortunately he could not recall. It was Ostrowski who had to
whisper to him: "But, Herr Geheimrat, it is one of your own theorems!"
When the time came to enroll at the university, Ostrowski was denied entrance to the University of Kiev on purely bureaucratic grounds: he graduated from the School of Commerce and not from High School! 1915 After the war was over and peace was restored between the Ukraine and Germany, Ostrowski in 1918 moved on to Göttingen, the world center of mathematics at that time.