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% Part: history
% Chapter: biographies
% Section: julia-robinson
\olsection{Julia Robinson}
\olphoto{robinson-julia}{Julia Robinson}
Julia Bowman Robinson was an American mathematician. She is known
mainly for her work on decision problems, and most famously for her
contributions to the solution of Hilbert's tenth problem. Robinson was
born in St. Louis, Missouri on December 8, 1919. At a young age
Robinson recalls being intrigued by numbers \citep[4]{Reid1986}. At
age nine she contracted scarlet fever and suffered from several
recurrent bouts of rheumatic fever. This forced her to spend much of
her time in bed, putting her behind in her education. Although she
was able to catch up with the help of private tutors, the physical
effects of her illness had a lasting impact on her life.
Despite her childhood struggles, Robinson graduated high school with
several awards in mathematics and the sciences. She started her university
career at San Diego State College, and transferred to the University of
California, Berkeley as a senior. There she was highly influenced by
mathematician Raphael Robinson. They quickly became good friends, and
married in 1941. As a spouse of a faculty member, Robinson was
barred from teaching in the mathematics department at Berkeley. Although
she continued to audit mathematics classes, she hoped to leave university
and start a family. Not long after her wedding, however, Robinson contracted
pneumonia. She was told that there was substantial scar tissue build up on
her heart due to the rheumatic fever she suffered as a child. Due to the
severity of the scar tissue, the doctor predicted that she would not live
past forty and she was advised not to have children \citep[13]{Reid1986}.
Robinson was depressed for a long time, but eventually decided to
continue studying mathematics. She returned to Berkeley and completed
her PhD in 1948 under the supervision of Alfred Tarski. The
first-order theory of the real numbers had been shown to be decidable
by Tarski, and from G\"odel's work it followed that the first-order
theory of the natural numbers is undecidable. It was a major open
problem whether the first-order theory of the rationals is decidable
or not. In her thesis \citeyearpar{Robinson1949}, Robinson proved that
it was not.
Interested in decision problems, Robinson next attempted to find a
solution Hilbert's tenth problem. This problem was one of a famous
list of 23 mathematical problems posed by David Hilbert in 1900. The
tenth problem asks whether there is an algorithm that will answer, in
a finite amount of time, whether or not a polynomial equation with
integer coefficients, such as $3x^2 - 2y +3 = 0$, has a solution in
the integers. Such questions are known as \emph{Diophantine
problems}. After some initial successes, Robinson joined forces with
Martin Davis and Hilary Putnam, who were also working on the
problem. They succeeded in showing that exponential Diophantine
problems (where the unknowns may also appear as exponents) are
undecidable, and showed that a certain conjecture (later called
``J.R.'') implies that Hilbert's tenth problem is undecidable
\citep{DavisPutnamRobinson1961}. Robinson continued to work on the
problem for the next decade. In 1970, the young Russian mathematician
Yuri Matijasevich finally proved the J.R. hypothesis. The combined
result is now called the Matijasevich-Robinson-Davis-Putnam theorem,
or MDRP theorem for short. Matijasevich and Robinson became friends
and collaborated on several papers. In a letter to Matijasevich,
Robinson once wrote that ``actually I am very pleased that working
together (thousands of miles apart) we are obviously making more
progress than either one of us could alone''
Robinson was the first female president of the American Mathematical
Society, and the first woman to be elected to the National
Academy of Science. She died on July 30, 1985 at the age of 65 after
being diagnosed with leukemia.
Robinson's mathematical papers are available in her \textit{Collected
Works} \citep{Robinson1996}, which also includes a reprint of her
National Academy of Sciences biographical memoir
\citep{Feferman1994}. Robinson's older sister Constance Reid published
an ``Autobiography of Julia,'' based on interviews \citep{Reid1986},
as well as a full memoir \citep{Reid1996}. A short documentary about
Robinson and Hilbert's tenth problem was directed by George Csicsery
\citep{Csicsery2016}. For a brief memoir about Yuri Matijasevich's
collaborations with Robinson, and her influence on his work, see