University mathematician John Nash GS ’50 and his wife Alicia Nash died Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, according to Sergeant Gregory Williams of the New Jersey State Police. Nash was 86 and his wife was 82.
The taxi had been traveling southbound on the New Jersey Turnpike in Monroe Township before the accident, Williams said. He added that preliminary findings indicate that the taxi had been trying to pass another vehicle, but then the driver lost control of the car and crashed into a guard rail.
Both Nashes were immediately ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene, according to NJ.com. The taxi driver sustained non-fatal injuries, and Williams said the accident is still under investigation.
In 1994, Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for his research on game theory, on which he collaborated with two other mathematicians.
Nash was awarded the Abel Prize this year alongside Louis Nirenberg for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations.
The Abel Prize is an international award given once a year by the Norwegian government to one or more scholars for outstanding scientific work in mathematics, according to the official website. The prize amount is approximately six million Norwegian krone, or about 825,975 U.S. dollars.
Nash was also the main subject of Sylvia Nasar’s biography “A Beautiful Mind” and the subsequent 2001 film of the same name based on the book. "A Beautiful Mind" described Nash’s struggles with paranoid schizophrenia and his mathematical prowess. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly acted in the film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Chair of the University's mathematics department David Gabai said he was shocked to hear the news on Sunday morning.
“For all mathematicians and for me personally, he was such an inspiration for not only doing just spectacular work but also for having unbelievable mental power and willpower to overcome his sickness and problem, and for being able to function as a human being and as a mathematician,” Gabai said.
Nash grew up in West Virginia and received a full scholarship to what is now Carnegie Mellon University, which he entered as a chemical engineering major before switching to mathematics for his bachelor's and master's degrees.
In 1948, he became a doctoral student in mathematics at the University, and went on to accept a faculty position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951. Nash later returned to the University in 1995 as a senior researcher in the mathematics department.
Gabai noted that his shock was doubled at the loss of Alicia Nash, and reflected on the significant role she played in her husband’s life.
Nash married Alicia in 1957, two years after meeting her in an advanced calculus class he taught at MIT. Alicia Nash was one of 16 women in the MIT graduating class of 1955, according to PBS.
“Through all those troubles she stuck with him,” Gabai said. "What he did was unbelievable even as he was just coming out of his sickness, but surely she played a tremendous and crucial role in being so supportive."
The Nashes divorced in 1963 but remained close and remarried in 2001. They are survived by a son, John Charles Martin Nash, who lives in his parents' home.
On behalf of the family, an unidentified person at the Nash household declined to comment.
John Nash is also survived by a son from a previous relationship, John David Stier.
Gabai noted that both John and Alicia Nash encouraged young students, explaining that they would often show up to various events and celebratory dinners for graduating students.
“They were always supportive at all levels towards students,” Gabai said.
He added that the University will almost certainly do something to memorialize John Nash’s great life.
“It’s just a tremendous loss for humankind and mathematics,” Gabai said.
University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 issued a statement Sunday morning conveying his sadness at the untimely passing of John and Alicia Nash. John Nash's revolutionary discoveries in game theory influenced generations of mathematicians, economists and scientists, Eisgruber said in the statement, and the Nashes demonstrated their courage in the face of daunting challenges throughout their lives.
Prospective math major Luya Wang ’18 also expressed her shock at the loss of John Nash.
“I’m speechless right now,” she said. “I think he was a very spiritual person in Fine Hall.”
Reflecting on an astro-science lecture during which she was seated across the table from him, she explained that though he was hard of hearing and had trouble speaking, he always appeared cheerful.
“He was always smiling,” Wang said. "Everyone is going to miss him"