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There are mathematicians whose creativity, insight and taste have the power of driving anyone into a world of beautiful ideas, which can inspire the desire, even the need for doing mathematics, or can make one to confront some kind of problems, dedicate his life to a branch of math, or choose an specific research topic.

I think that this kind of force must not be underestimated; on the contrary, we have the duty to take advantage of it in order to improve the mathematical education of those who may come after us, using the work of those gifted mathematicians (and even their own words) to inspire them as they inspired ourselves.

So, I'm interested on knowing who (the mathematician), when (in which moment of your career), where (which specific work) and why this person had an impact on your way of looking at math. Like this, we will have an statistic about which mathematicians are more akin to appeal to our students at any moment of their development. Please, keep one mathematician for post, so that votes are really representative.

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closed as off topic by quid, Yemon Choi, Andrés E. Caicedo, Ryan Budney, S. Carnahan Sep 5 '11 at 14:08

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It's always your advisor(s) that influence you the most, aren't they? – Zsbán Ambrus Jul 5 '10 at 22:00
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@Zsbán: I'm not so sure about that! I have the feeling that many mathematicians are most influenced by some others, or some works, or some open problems, or even some teachers BEFORE getting to have an advisor at all! – Jose Brox Jul 5 '10 at 23:12
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Interesting question. I noticed that all the stronger mathematicians I know (or know of) have other mathematicians that they look up to (sometimes long gone mathematicians who only communicate with us through their writings). So that the most influential may also be the most influenced (insert "shoulders of giants" Newton quote here). You would expect some self-made geniuses out there, people who feel they owe their success mostly to themselves, but I have yet to come across one. – Thierry Zell Aug 14 '10 at 1:12
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This is a nice list, but perhaps it is long enough. I vote to close. – user9072 Sep 2 '11 at 18:17
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I agree with quid, and am voting likewise – Yemon Choi Sep 2 '11 at 20:44

62 Answers 62

Colin Adams Knot theory was the first topic I was really excited about as an undergraduate from reading "The Knot Book." I did an summer program with Colin Adams and got my first glimpse of research, even at an undergraduate level and realized it's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

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For me its Aryanhatta who estimated the value of pi and proved that it is irrational way back in 400 B.C.

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Proved? Do you have a reference for that? – Faisal Jul 6 '10 at 12:04
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Proved? Not at all. He just gave an approximate value (circle of diameter 20000 has circumference 62832, which corresponds to 3.1416) and said "in this way, [the value] can be approached", and the last word has been speculated on and exaggerated to "proved". (Also, 500 AD, not 400 BC.) – shreevatsa Jul 7 '10 at 19:46

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