“He had this great talent for making things appear simple. … That is the ultimate best thing in mathematics, if you have an insight that something seemingly complicated is really simple, but simple after the fact.”
That’s what statistics professor Peter Bickel said of David Blackwell, an eminent mathematician and statistician who was the first African American admitted to the National Academy of Sciences. Blackwell joined the Berkeley faculty in 1954 and eventually became the first tenured black professor in the University of California system. He later chaired Berkeley’s world-renowned statistics department.
Blackwell contributed to numerous fields, including probability theory, game theory, and information theory. He had a gift for entering a well-studied field and discovering something new and remarkable. He died in 2010, and was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor for a scientist.