ungarian mathematics acquired international fame by the end of the 19th century, as is testified by the work of such great scholars as Gyula Kőnig, József Kürschák, Lipót Fejér, Alfréd Haar or Frigyes and Marcel Riesz. At the time, research in theoretical mathematics was conducted by talented teachers at universities, colleges, and secondary schools, as everywhere else in the world. In fact, the first independent mathematical institutes only came into being towards the middle of the 20th century, and their founding was prompted by nonscientific reasons: in the US by the flux of European immigrant scholars, and in the Soviet Union by the necessity of employing scientists whose research was valued by the regime but who could not teach for political reasons.
Thus, after 1949, research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences came into being following this Soviet model, but in many fields, especially in exact sciences, the ‘condition’ for entering them was not really political (un)reliability, but rather scientific excellence. This was the case of our Institute, officially founded in 1950, but which was, however, not without a predecessor.
In fact, in the second half of the 1940’s a research group in mathematics was already functioning under the auspices of the Technical University of Budapest, created following an initiative of the Ministry of Culture. Its leader was Jenő Egerváry, a significant theoretical mathematician who, having spent considerable time in Germany, was also familiar with modern applied mathematics. It is on the basis of this group that the Institute for Applied Mathematics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was created on August 1, 1950, following successful lobbying by György Alexits, at the time deputy secretary of state. 29-year-old young talent Alfréd Rényi was appointed as the first director, and for many years Jenő Egerváry served as President of the Scientific Board.
The Institute consisted of five research divisions at first. The Division of Mechanics and Tension Analysis, under the leadership of Jenő Egerváry, was the follower of the research group at the Technical University mentioned above. The other four units were the Division of Probability and Mathema-tical Statistics led by Alfréd Rényi; the Division of Actuaries and Economics led by István Vincze; the Division of Numerical and Graphical Methods led by György Hajós of Eötvös University (with an exterior branch in Miskolc); and the Division of Chemical Engineering led by István Fenyő.
At the beginning of the 1950’s, the main task of members of the Institute was to put their special mathematical knowledge at the disposal of industrial companies. For example, at the Division of Numerical and Graphical Methods it was possible to order calculations which could not be performed elsewhere. The statistics group, being familiar with the theory of sampling as well as with the corresponding procedures, could be helpful to quality control organizations. The biometry group gave advice on performing reliable statistical analyses in theoretical medicine, or on the planning of biological and agricultural experiments.
Gradually, the scope of research conducted at the institute began to widen. In the foreword of The 2nd Proceedings of the Applied Mathematical Institute, published in 1954, Rényi already mentions seven divisions: Mechanics and Tension Analysis; Probability; Mathematical Statistics; Numerical and Graphical Methods; Differential Equations; Electromechanics; and Real Analysis. As can be seen from this list, theoretical research has now gained territory besides the applied fields, prompting the necessity of restructuring and renaming the institute. This took place in 1955. As Rényi wrote in 1960, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Institute’s foundation, “the manifold problems and tasks faced by the staff of the Institute... can be solved only if mathematicians’ efforts in applying results are supported by theoretical research. The Institute can now realize more efficiently the connecting of applied work to theoretical research, having been restructured under the name Mathematical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as of August 1, 1955.”
György Grätzer, Paul Erdős,
Pál Turán and Alfréd Rényi
ccording to Rényi, “the change of name expresses that the Institute should be a home not only to applied research, but to pure mathematics as well, leading to a closer connection between theory and application. In the process of restructuring the Institute, new theoretical divisions will be established soon [...]” One of the newly established units was the Division of Complex Analysis led by Pál Turán (the predecessor of the current number theory group); another one the research group in functional analysis. Based in Szeged under the leadership of Béla Szőkefalvi-Nagy, this group is the ancestor of today’s Division of Analysis. It also furnishes a good example of a practice followed at the time but abandoned later: research groups performing significant scientific work somewhere in the country became, in a way or another, attached to the institute. The 1960’s also saw the birth of a research group in abstract algebra, led by László Rédei – this was a subject already quite remote from practical applications. As Rényi writes in a spirit typical for an era still suspicious about purely theoretical research: “No single division of the Institute can be considered as exclusively theoretical or exclusively application-oriented; the differences that emerge are only due to the relative importance attributed to theoretical research versus application.”
Since then, the research profile of the Institute has evolved in function of scientific trends and the availability of researchers specializing in a given field. Following the influence ofPál Erdős, Pál Turán, András Hajnal, László Fejes Tóth and others, research conducted in various areas of discrete mathematics (graph theory, combinatorial set theory, discrete geometry, to name but a few) has become one of the main forces of the Institute, leading to the creation of several new divisions. In the 1990’s, young researchers having studied abroad introduced subjects that have been previously missing from the palette of the Institute, such as algebraic geometry and differential topology. The future will certainly see the emergence of new research topics; the Institute, however, does not aim at covering all fields of mathematics, only those where it can set up a strong research group.
Thus it can be seen that over the years theoretical research has gradually become the dominant activity at the Institute. Applications, however, have not been forgotten. A research group directed towards economic applications started its work in 1959 under the leadership of András Prékopa. This group, later transferred to the newly founded Computer and Automation Research Institute, was the precursor of the Hungarian school in operation research that attained international fame. From the 1960’s, researchers at the institute became involved in industrial applications through individual contracts. For example, Alfréd Rényi and János Szentágothai worked together on a mathematical model of the brain. At the end of the 1970’s GANZ Equipment Works developed programs using combinatorial ideas. Differential equations describing the subterranean burning of oil fields of Zala county were also investigated. Colleagues from the Institute developed computer programs of long-range forecasting for the Hungarian Aluminum Trust, and created an algorithm for designing chips for the Company of Microelectronics. In recent years, the Institute has been successful in applying its expertise in databases and cryptography.
Resolution of altering the name of the Institute hus during the past decades, the Institute underwent quite a number of transformations, but in its spirit it remains close to that of its founding director. From July 1, 1999, the Institute bears the name of Alfréd Rényi, in honour of his achievements in mathematics and scientific organization.
The building of the Institute
The Institute is located in a four-story historical building in the heart of downtown Budapest; see the next section for the building’s history.
On the ground floor you find in particular the Director’s office, the secretaries’ room (look at the painted ceilings!) and the library of the institute. From the entrance hall you can also enter the Institute’s inner courtyard. Equipped with round tables, chairs and even a whiteboard, it is a calm and pleasant place for a mathematical discussion or just a chat when the weather is fine. It is from there that you may access the computer managers’ room.
On the first floor you find mostly offices, but also the Finance Department and the main lecture room. This impressive room is suitable for seminars with up to a hundred participants. Though it still retains its original shape of a century ago (look at the cameos representing symbols of sciences and engineering!), it is also equipped with audiovisual facilities meeting the needs of the 21st century. Its excellent acoustics permit the organization of concerts (there is indeed a Christmas concert here each year); it can be also transformed into a ballroom during the Mathematicians’ Ball. The lecture room opens from a pleasant lounge suitable for discussions as well as smaller receptions.
The second floor is again mostly occupied by offices, but you also find here two smaller seminar rooms called the dogs’ room and the cats’ room, respectively (ask a local colleague for the origin of these names) and another lounge. The recently created third floor is exclusively devoted to offices.
History of the building
After its foundation, the Institute – with eleven full-time and a few part-time researchers – was housed in four offices on the second level of the main building of the Technical University. Later the Institute moved into rented rooms, among others in 31 Stalin (now Andrássy) avenue and 4 Zichy Jenő street. In 1958, it moved to its present day premises at 13–15 Reáltanoda street.
Until 1887, there were two separate lots and houses on the site of the Reáltanoda building. In 1868 baron Béla Rédl bought the lot at 13 Reáltanoda street. He received permission to build a one-story palace during the same year, which is documented as an existing building by 1873. In 1886 baron Rédl bought the neighboring lot at 15 Reáltanoda street from its former owner and enlarged his palace. The present arrangement, a building enclosing a relatively large courtyard, was formed after several modifications. It was built in stages, which can be seen not only from the plans of the building but also from its facade. It is conceivable that the plans for the original palace at 13 Reáltanoda street were designed by Theofil Hansen of Vienna; those of the 1886-87 extension are by János Wagner.
Baron Richard Hammerstein inherited the palace in 1907, and applied for a permission to enlarge it to a three-story building. Before the construction could have been started, he sold the building to the Hungarian Engineering and Architecture Association (HEAA) and Alajos Hauszmann, then president of HEAA, made designs for the residence. Hauszmann was one of the most sought-after Hungarian architects of his time; his most famous building is that of the Curia (Supreme Court), today Museum of Ethnography, on Kossuth square, just opposite the Parliament. His design for the Institute consisted of the addition of a third story and a representative lecture room, resulting in a beautiful and harmonious building. It served as the seat of the HEAA until 1946. Afterwards it became a ‘People’s College’ for several years, then the seat of the Confederation of Societies in Engineering and Exact Sciences. The Mathematical Institute has been the occupant of the building since 1958.
The next major restructuring of the institute’s building was carried out between 2000 and 2003, approximately a century after Hauszmann’s work. Its main aim was to provide more office space for a continuously expanding institution, but also to improve general working conditions and, from the point of view of architecture, to eliminate later modifications of the building and restore Hauszmann’s design as closely as is possible without confronting practical needs of the institute.
The most spectacular part of this transformation was the creation of 12 new air-conditioned offices in the northern part of the institute’s attic which also gave way to the elimination of some anomalous conditions on the second floor, giving rise to the new lounge and the two small seminar rooms. On the first floor a flat from the neighbouring building was attached to the institute, thereby enlarging the office space, and the entrance hall was restored to its original shape, close to Hauszmann’s design. Finally, a fifty-year-old dream came true by the construction of an elevator in the inner courtyard.
The library of the Institute is the most important mathematical library in Hungary, with a stock of almost 40,000 titles and over 300 periodicals arriving regularly via exchange or subscription. The basis for exchange is the Institute’s journal (see the next section). The number of library visitors is constantly increasing: while in 1977 it had 611 readers and 2044 visitors, in 1999 these figures climbed up to 1640 and 14,500, respectively.
The library received computer equipment in the second half of the 1980’s; it currently uses the Corvina system for handling library procedures and for exchanging information with other libraries in Hungary. Today the catalogue of the institute’s library can also be consulted via the Internet. For local users many journals are available online and they have access to all major mathematical databases such as Mathematical Reviewsand Zentralblatt MATH.
The journal of the Institute
A cover of Studia he first issue of the forerunner of our current journal, the Proceedings of the Applied Mathematical Institute, was published in 1953, followed by the second and the third issues in 1954 and 1955, respectively. The next issue, published in 1956, had a modified title, corresponding to the change in the name of the Institute. These proceedings were published yearly until 1964.
Our current journal, Studia Scientiarum Mathematicarum Hungarica, a scientific periodical established in 1966 and published by the Hungarian Academic Publishing House (today a branch of Kluwer Academic Publishers) is, in a certain sense, a continuation of these proceedings. The editor-in-chief has always been the director of the institute and the editorial board includes the heads of the research divisions. Currently, there are four issues a year, among which occasionally special issues in the honour of distinguished Hungarian mathematicians.
The homepage of the Institute
As any significant institution nowadays, the Institute has a homepage on the Internet, accessible at http://www.renyi.hu. Its main features include:
latest news from the Institute on front page, together with a list of upcoming events;
information about the Institute’s activities, open positions, training programs;
a regularly updated list of mathematical seminars in Budapest and Hungary, e-mailed weekly to those who join an open subscription list;
a directory of the Institute, with links to homepages of researchers and research groups;
homepages of conferences organized at the Institute as well as archives for past conferences and seminars;
the library’s page, with electronic access to the catalogue and (for local users) online journals and databases;
practical information for visitors.
Please visit this page for further information concerning the Institute. We are grateful for any comment or criticism.