December 18, 1942 -
Lenore Blum was a bright and artistic child who loved math, art, and music from her original introductions to them. Blum finished high school at the age of 16, after which she excitedly applied to MIT, who turned her down for the first of several attempts to enroll. She began college at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh studying first architecture and then math, her real love. For her third year, she enrolled at Simmons, a women's college in Boston, only to find the math courses not challenging enough. She cross-registered at MIT, her first successful foot-in-the-door attempt, and this would prove its worth - she graduated from Simmons but then received her Ph.D. in mathematics from M.I.T. in 1968 ["Generalized Algebraic Theories: A Model Theoretic Approach"]. After this, Blum came to UC Berkeley as a postdoctorate student and lecturer. This only lasted for two years, after which she began to become eminent in the women's mathematics scene, which was in the midst of massive change and re-organization. She was one of the first members of the Association for Women in Mathematics, of which she was later president. In 1973 she was hired at Mills College to teach an algebra class - an experience that she was not satisfied with, and that she was determined to change, to make more interesting and more enjoyable for both instructor and student. She founded the Mills College Math and Computer Science department, serving as its head for 13 years. In the 1980's she decided to become a full-time research mathematician, a decision which has paid off for her, as proven by the numerous talks she has given at international conferences for mathematicians, including a presentation of her work at the 1990 International Congress of Mathematicians in Kyoto, Japan. Since 1988 Blum has been a research scientist in the Theory Group of the International Computer Science Institute, and since 1989, an adjunct professor of computer science, at The University of California at Berkeley. She served as vice president of the American Mathematical Society from 1990 to 1992. From 1992 to 1997 she was Deputy Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) at Berkeley, where she continued to strive towards eliminating negative math stigma for girls and making closer the worlds of mathematicians and math educators in such pursuits.
Blum has been widely recognized as a champion for women and girls in mathematics. As was said, she was a charter member of the Association for Women in Mathematics, as well as a president of the organization from 1975 to 1978. After she transformed the Mills College math courses and became the head of the new department, more and more women there were encouraged to pursue science and math-intensive fields, which in many cases had not been considered. Blum was also instrumental in founding the Math/Science Network, which started out as Math for Girls, an after-school problem-solving program designed to get girls interested in logic and math. The Math/Science Network now travels nationwide with the same message in the form of workshops and lectures from interested scientists and educators. In 1991, Blum presented a talk on the history of women in mathematical history at the AWM; she represented the AMS at the Pan-American Congress of Mathematicians. Ever since that conference, she has been instrumental in constructing an electronic communications link between America and Africa.
Blum's research, from her early work in model theory, led to the formulation of her own theorems dealing with the patterns she found in trying to use new methods of logic to solve old problems in algebra. She turned her work on this project into her doctoral thesis, which was rewarded with a fellowship. Another of her projects concerned a paper that she and her husband, Manuel, wrote together that proposed designing computers that could learn from examples, much in the way that small children do.
Other highlights of Blum's career include being the first woman editor of International Journal of Algebra and Computation (1989-1991) and being elected as Vice-President of the American Mathematical Society (1990-1991).
Lenore Blum spent 1996 to 1998 as a Visiting Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at the City University of Hong Kong where she co-authored a book on Complexity and Real Computation with Filipe Cucker, Mike Shub, and Steve Smale. In the fall of 1999 she became the Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Blum presented the 2002 AWM Emmy Noether Lecture on "Computing Over the Reals: Where Turing Meets Newton."
On May 16, 2005, President George Bush announced Lenore Blum as one of the recipients of the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. The press release about the award says that
"Lenore Blum of Carnegie Mellon University helped pioneer the Expanding Your Horizons program at Mills College in 1973. The program—designed to introduce young female students to women in science and related careers—has since gone national through the Math/Science Network. Blum's leadership has also been instrumental in transforming the culture of computing at Carnegie Mellon to embrace diversity as critical for the field and future of our nation and by creating a model mentorship organization, Women@SCS, for women students in computer science."
Photo Credit: Paul Halmos from his collection "I Have a Photographic Memory."