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Alonzo Church (June 14, 1903 – August 11, 1995) was an Americanmarker mathematician and logician who made major contributions to mathematical logic and the foundations of theoretical computer science. He is best known for the lambda calculus, Church–Turing thesis, Frege–Church ontology, and the Church–Rosser theorem.


Alonzo Church was born on June 14, 1903 in Washington, D.C.marker where his father, Samuel Robbins Church, was the Justice of the Municipal Court for the District of Columbia. The family later moved to Virginia after his father lost this position because of failing eyesight. With help from his uncle, also named Alonzo Church, he was able to attend the Ridgefield School for Boys in Ridgefield, Connecticutmarker. After graduating from Ridgefield in 1920, Church attended Princeton Universitymarker where he was an exceptional student, publishing his first paper, on Lorentz transformation, and graduating in 1924 with a degree in mathematics. He stayed on at Princeton, earning a Ph.D. in mathematics in three years under Oswald Veblen.

He married Mary Julia Kuczinski in 1925 and the couple had three children, Alonzo Church, Jr. (1929), Mary Ann (1933) and Mildred (1938).

After receiving his Ph.D. he taught briefly as an instructor at the University of Chicagomarker and then received a two-year National Research Fellowship. This allowed him to attend Harvard Universitymarker in 1927–1928 and then both University of Göttingenmarker and University of Amsterdammarker the following year. He taught at Princeton, 1929–1967, and at the University of California, Los Angelesmarker, 1967–1990. In 1990, he received the Doctor Honoris Causa from the State University of New York at Buffalo in connection with an international symposium in his honor organized by John Corcoran. He had previously received honorary doctorates from Case Western Reserve Universitymarker (1969) and Princeton Universitymarker (1985).

He died in 1995 and was buried in Princeton Cemeterymarker.

Mathematical work

Church is best known for the following accomplishments:

The lambda calculus emerged in his famous 1936 paper showing the existence of an "undecidable problem". This result preceded Alan Turing's famous work on the halting problem, which also demonstrated the existence of a problem unsolvable by mechanical means. Church and Turing then showed that the lambda calculus and the Turing machine used in Turing's halting problem were equivalent in capabilities, and subsequently demonstrated a variety of alternative "mechanical processes for computation." This resulted in the Church–Turing thesis.

The lambda calculus influenced the design of the LISP programming language and functional programming languages in general. The Church encoding is named in his honor.


Church's doctoral students were an extraordinarily accomplished lot, including C. Anthony Anderson, Peter B. Andrews, George A. Barnard, William W. Boone, Martin Davis, Alfred L. Foster, Leon Henkin, John G. Kemeny, Stephen C. Kleene, Simon B. Kochen, Maurice L'Abbé, Isaac Malitz, Gary Mar, Michael O. Rabin, Nicholas Rescher, Hartley Rogers, Jr., J. Barkley Rosser, Dana Scott, Raymond Smullyan, and Alan Turing. See [8012].A more complete list is at [8013] as part of the Mathematics Genealogy Project.


  • Alonzo Church, Introduction to Mathematical Logic (ISBN 978-0691029061)
  • Alonzo Church, The Calculi of Lambda-Conversion (ISBN 978-0691083940)
  • Alonzo Church, A Bibliography of Symbolic Logic, 1666–1935 (ISBN 978-0821800843)
  • C. Anthony Anderson and Michael Zelëny, editors, Logic, Meaning and Computation: Essays in Memory of Alonzo Church (ISBN 978-1402001413)

See also



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