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Alonzo Church
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Alonzo Church

Alonzo Church (June 14, 1903 - August 11, 1995) was an American mathematician and logician who was responsible for some of the foundations of theoretical computer science. Born in Washington, DC, he received a bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1924 and a PhD in 1927. He became a professor of mathematics at Princeton in 1929.

He is best known for the development of the lambda calculus, his 1936 paper that showed the existence of an "undecidable problem" in it. This result preempted Alan Turing's famous work on the halting problem which also demonstrated the existence of a problem unsolvable by mechanical means. Supervising Turing's doctoral thesis, they 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" had equivalent computational abilities. This resulted in the Church-Turing thesis, which is also known as Church's Thesis and Turing's Thesis as there is dispute about who proposed it first.

Church's other doctoral students included Stephen Kleene, J. Barkley Rosser, Leon Henkin, John George Kemeny, Michael O. Rabin, Dana Scott, Simon Kochen, Raymond Smullyan et al (see Enderton, In memoriam).

Church remained a professor of mathematics at Princeton until 1967, when he moved to California.

Church's lambda calculus influenced the design of the Lisp family of computer languages, as well as functional programming languages in general.

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