George Szekeres's student years

In 1994 the journal with Hungarian title Középiskolai Matematikai Lapok, which translated into English is the Mathematical and Physical Journal for Secondary Schools, celebrated 100 years of publication. To mark the occasion the Journal brought out a special issue in English with articles about the Journal and its influence on mathematics and mathematicians in Hungary. In this issue there is an article Remembering the student years assembled by George Marx, Honorary President of the Loránd Eötvös Physical Society. We quote here the part relating to the student years of George Szekeres:-

Many prominent physicists and mathematicians, born in Hungary, achieved their famous results abroad, but they remembered their school years, the students journal and student competition contributing to their career.

George Szekeres is a chemist-mathematician now living in Australia. He is a member of both the Hungarian and Australian Academies of Sciences.

I didn't know about KöMaL until the beginning of my last year of high school when my physics teacher Károly Novobátzky (later professor of theoretical physics at Budapest University) called my attention to the journal. I immediately became and avid problem solver. It was only then that I realized that I have a talent for mathematics. By that time I had already decided to take up chemical engineering, so I enrolled at the Technical University. However, soon after finishing high school I got acquainted with many of my fellow KöMaL problem solvers whom until then I only know from the pages of the journal: Pál Turán, Pál Erdős,Tibor Grünwald-Gallai among others who later made such a deep mark on Hungarian and world mathematics.

As a result, even during my chemistry studies I never lost contact with mathematics and read avidly any mathematical book that came my way (for instance I read through Landau's three-volume book Number Theory). By the time I got my chemical engineering degree I already wrote a mathematical paper with Turán. Soon afterwards my second paper was born, this time with Erdős, in which we solved a combinatorial-geometrical problem proposed by another former KöMaL problem solver, Eszter Klein. This paper eventually became rather well known as one of the pioneering works on what is now called Ramsey theory. For me it had another significance: Eszter became my wife in 1937. Erdős used to call it afterwards the 'Happy End Problem'.

(KöMaL centennial issue, December 1993.)

Last Updated March 2006