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What's DePauw's Link to A Beautiful Mind? Prof. Jack Morrill '57!

June 5, 2002

June 5, 2002, Greencastle, Ind. - It's not every year that DePauw has a connection to the Oscar winner for Best Picture, but you can chalk up 2002 as one of those years. Professor emeritus of mathematics and economics John E. "Jack" Morrill is mentioned in the footnotes of Sylvia Nasar's book A Beautiful Mind, which became director Ron Howard's film of the same name in 2001 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture in March. It's attracted some notoriety for Morrill, who graduated from DePauw in 1957.

Video Link [DOWNLOAD VIDEO: "Not Bashful" 730KB] "I did have a couple people who picked it up, and I've not been bashful about saying 'if you go to Chapter 48, footnote 12, you'll find my name in that book,'" Dr. Morrill says. "It's even more fun to say, 'My name is in that book somewhere, see if you can find me.' That's a greater challenge and most people have failed," the professor says.

Morrill is mentioned in reference to an article he wrote for the American Mathematical Monthly about the lack of a Nobel Prize in mathematics. Morrill notes that when John Forbes Nash (the scientist who battled schizophrenia and is the subject of the film) won his Nobel prize in 1994, it was technically in the field of economic science, but many scholars called it the first-ever Nobel prize awarded purely for contributions made to mathematics (you can read Morrill's article by clicking here; the link may inaccessible from some computers).

Jack Morrill was studying game theory when he first learned about John Nash. In January of 1997, about three years after Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize, Dr. Morrill and a colleague from the University of Michigan organized a special session of the American Mathematical Society in Nash's honor. John Nash attended that event and met Morrill. Nash and his wife Alicia shared a drink with the DePauw professor. Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Honoring Nash" 852KB] "He was very gracious and very interesting to meet," Morrill reports.

When the movie came out last year, Morrill made a point of seeing how the portrayals of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly matched the real-life characters he had met in person just a few years prior. Video Link [DOWNLOAD VIDEO: "The Movie" 819KB] "I liked the movie very much," Morrill says. Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Different Responses" 499KB] "I talked to other people who I knew that knew nothing about Nash and found they liked the movie, most of them, and had a different response not knowing anything about Nash and Nash's story." The professor notes the Broadway play Proof, which features a math storyline, is also popular, adding, "Mathematicians are getting lots of ink lately."

Prior to seeing the movie, Morrill, the recipient of the 2000 Frederick C. Tucker Distinguished Career Award, had read Nasar's book twice. He calls it "tremendously well-written" and "a major contribution to biography." Morrill said he had advance notice that his paper would be referenced in the book, laughing that the book would have been delayed by 20 years if Nasar had waited to contact everyone whose work she notes. (BONUS CLIP: Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Contacting the Footnotes" 244KB])

Jack Morrill came to DePauw in 1953 as a student. He received a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics from DePauw and his master's and doctorate in mathematics from the University of Michigan. Following graduate school, he returned to teach mathematics at DePauw and became a full professor in 1976.

You can read more about A Beautiful Mind, the book, and order it at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. The video can be pre-ordered online (it will be released June 25), on VHS or DVD, via Barnes & Noble.com, CD Now and Best Buy.com.

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