Alan Turing Biography

Alan Turing, the famous British mathematician, played a crucial role in the development of computers. As a child prodigy, he pursued his Ph.D. from Princeton University and later became a key member of the code-breakers at Bletchley Park. Turing’s remarkable achievement was deciphering the German codes sent through the Enigma machine using his innovative bombe device. Despite facing challenges, including the discovery of Soviet spies within his team and his conviction for homosexuality, Turing’s contributions were eventually recognized. His life and work were brought to the forefront through the acclaimed film “The Imitation Game.”

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In June
  • Also Known As: Alan Mathison Turing
  • Died At Age: 41
  • Family:
    • Father: Julius Mathison Turing
    • Mother: Ethel Sara Stoney
    • Siblings: John Turing
    • Partner: Joan Clarke (engaged in 1941; did not marry)
  • Born Country: England
  • Quotes By Alan Turing
  • Mathematicians
  • Died on: June 7, 1954
  • Place of Death: Wilmslow, Cheshire, England
  • City: London, England
  • Cause of Death: Cyanide Poisoning
  • Discoveries/Inventions: LU Decomposition, Universal Turing Machine
  • More Facts
  • Education: Princeton University, University Of Cambridge

Childhood & Early Life

Alan Mathison Turing was born on June 23, 1912, in Paddington, London, to Julius Mathison and Ethel Sara. Julius was employed with the ‘Indian Civil Service.’ Alan had a brother named John. He pursued his elementary education at ‘St Michael’s,’ later studying at ‘Sherborne School’ in Dorset, starting in 1926. In 1931, he began attending ‘King’s College’ at the ‘University of Cambridge,’ graduating in mathematics three years later with top scores. He began pursuing a fellowship from ‘King’s College’ in 1935, during which he published the paper, ‘On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.’ It was in this paper that he drew references from Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel’s research to develop simple imaginary devices, which came to be known as ‘Turing machines.’ According to his hypothesis, such a machine is capable of calculating anything that can be quantified. The modern computer came into existence because of this assumption made by the young Turing. During 1936-38, he was taught at ‘Princeton University,’ by famous American logician, Alonzo Church. Along with lessons in mathematics, Alan was also taught cryptology. Towards the end of this period, he was able to get his Ph.D. from the university. After this, he was also taught by Ludwig Wittgenstein at the ‘University of Cambridge.’


In September 1938, Turing took up a part-time job at the ‘Government Code and Cypher School’ (GC&CS), an organization that specialized in breaking war codes. The ‘GC&CS’ was located at Bletchley Park during ‘World War II,’ and it was here that Alan was accompanied by fellow code-breaker, Dilly Knox. The young mathematician was appointed to break the codes sent by German officials during ‘World War II.’ The codes were sent through the radio machine, ‘Enigma.’ In 1939, the ‘Polish Cipher Bureau’ had shared with the ‘GC&CS’ their method of breaking the codes. Knox and Alan tried to break down the complex Polish techniques into a simpler and more workable method. The indicators referred to by the Polish were not too reliable and could’ve been altered by the Germans at any given time. Thus, Turing tried using the decoding methods, and developed a device called the ‘bombe.’ In December 1939, he developed a decrypting technique, using statistical analysis, and called it the ‘Banburismus.’ The ‘Banburismus’ had the potential to decipher the ‘Enigma’ codes, which were more complex than those used by other warring countries. The first ‘bombe’ began functioning in Bletchley Park on March 18, 1940, and it was built to electrically arrive at logical conclusions about what the ‘Enigma’ indicators meant. By the following year, Turing and his colleagues, Hugh Alexander, Gordon Welchman, and Stuart Milner-Barry, were getting agitated with their slow progress. They needed more people and funding and sought Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s help. Churchill obliged to the urgency shown, and soon there were over 200 ‘bombes’ in place. In 1942, the brilliant mathematician went to the United States to study the methods of breaking the ‘Naval Enigma’ codes that were being employed by logicians at the ‘Computing Machine Laboratory’ in Dayton, Ohio. The same year, he invented the ‘Turingery’ method to combat and decipher coded messages being sent by Germans through their newly built ‘Geheimschreiber’ typing machine. The device, which was based on the new technique, and built by Alan, was given the name ‘Tunny’ at Bletchley Park. During 1945-47, Turing began working at the ‘National Physical Laboratory’ (NPL), where he developed a machine called the ‘Automatic Computing Engine’ (ACE). Around the same time, he produced a research paper, describing his conception of a computer that could hold pre-fed programs. A crude and incomplete model of the ‘ACE’ was built for testing purposes in 1950, when the illustrious mathematician was in Cambridge. Computers like the ‘Bendix G-15,’ designed in America, and ‘Electric DEUCE,’ built in England, are based on the ‘ACE.’ In 1948, Turing began working at the ‘Computing Laboratory’ which was initiated by mathematician Max Newman, and located at the ‘University of Manchester.’ It was here that Turing began to show an inclination towards mathematical biology. The same year, he also worked as a lecturer at the University of Manchester’s Department of Mathematics. During this time, with help from his friend D. G. Champernowne, he began developing a chess program, which could be played on a computer that he had envisioned but not built. In 1948, he also came up with the ‘LU decomposition method,’ a pioneering technique that is presently used to solve matrices. The following year, he was promoted at the university to the post of deputy director of the ‘Computing Machine Laboratory.’ He developed a type of software named ‘Manchester Mark 1,’ while continuing to research abstract mathematics and artificial intelligence. He developed the ‘Turing Test,’ which could judge whether a machine is ‘intelligent’ or not. In 1950, the chess program was built with Champernowne’s help, and was named ‘Turochamp.’ From 1952-54, despite failing health, he pursued research on mathematical biology, and produced a thesis titled ‘The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis.’

Major Works

This scientist is known for having pioneered the concept of modern-day computers by introducing the idea of a ‘Turing Machine,’ which is simple, and yet capable of solving any form of algorithms that can be measured and quantified.

Awards & Achievements

Alan was awarded the ‘Smith’s Prize’ in 1939, by the ‘University of Cambridge’ for his exceptional contribution in the field of applied mathematics. In 1945, this great mathematician was honored by King George VI with the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ for his services during ‘World War II.’

Personal Life & Legacy

While studying at ‘Sherborne School,’ Alan befriended his classmate Christopher Morcom, whom he fell in love with. The blossoming friendship ended abruptly when Morcom died of bovine tuberculosis. In 1941, he proposed to Joan Clarke, who was his colleague at Bletchley Park. The two got engaged, but the marriage was soon called off as Turing thought it would be unfair to get married to Clarke despite being homosexual. At the age of 39, Alan got into a relationship with the 19-year-old Arnold Murray. During a burglary investigation at the mathematician’s house, personal details about his homosexuality came to light, and Alan was arrested on charges of indecency. After his conviction in 1952, he was given a choice between hormonal castration and imprisonment. The ingenious logician chose hormonal castration through medication so that he could continue his scientific work at home. On June 8, 1954, Alan was found poisoned at home. After the autopsy, it was concluded that he had taken his own life by consuming large quantities of potassium cyanide.


This famous British mathematician was also a long-distance runner, who appeared for the ‘British Olympic’ try-outs in 1948. He lost to the famous runner Thomas Richards, falling short by 11 minutes. In 2009, the then-British Prime Minister delivered an official apology on behalf of the government for the horrible way Turing was treated.

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