Mathematician:Alexander Craig Aitken

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New Zealander mathematician known for his work in statistics, algebra and numerical analysis.

Worked at Bletchley Park during World War II on the Enigma code.

Famously memorised the decimal expansion of the reciprocal of $97$ by heart.


New Zealander


  • Born: 1 April 1895 in Dunedin, New Zealand
  • 1912: Head Boy at Otago Boys' High School in Dunedin
  • 1913: Won scholarship to Otago University
  • 1915: Enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and served in Gallipoli, Egypt, and France
  • 1916: Wounded at Battle of the Somme
  • 1917: Sent back to New Zealand
  • 1919: Student (by correspondence) with Duncan Sommerville
  • 1920: Graduated with First Class Honours in French and Latin but only Second Class Honours in mathematics
  • 1920: Married Mary Winifred Betts
  • 1923: Studied for Ph.D. at Edinburgh University
  • 1925: Appointed to Edinburgh University
  • 1925: Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
  • 1926: Awarded a D.Sc. for thesis
  • 1936: Became a Reader in Statistics
  • 1936: Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society
  • 1946: Appointed to Whittaker's Chair
  • 1964: Elected to the Royal Society of Literature
  • Died: 3 November 1967 in Edinburgh, Scotland

Theorems and Definitions


  • 1939: Statistical Mathematics
  • 1962: The Case against Decimalisation

Also known as

Known semi-formally as Alex Aitken.

Critical View

Aitken competed successfully with Wim Klein, a Dutch prodigy who had memorised the multiplication table up to $100 \times 100$ but lacked the mathematical knowledge to employ clever short cuts. Aitken often made subconscious calculations. He told of results that 'came up from the murk', and would say of a particular number that it 'feels prime' as indeed it was. He was one of the few to whom integers were personal friends. He noticed, for instance, an amusing property of $163$: that $e^{\pi \sqrt{163} }$ differs from an integer by less than $10^{-12}$. As he himself once put it, 'Familiarity with numbers, acquired by innate faculty sharpened by assiduous practice, does give insight into the profounder theorems of algebra and analysis.'
-- Ball and Coxeter: Mathematical Recreations and Essays, 12th ed., $1974$