In one of his essays, Y Combinator (YC) co-founder Paul Graham (PG) wrote$^\color{magenta}{\star}$ the following.

My father is a mathematician. For most of my childhood he worked for Westinghouse, modelling nuclear reactors [...] He grew up in the small Welsh seacoast town of Pwllheli.

Who would that mathematician be?

I suspect it's Ronald Graham, but he was born in the US, not the UK. Also, it seems he didn't work on nuclear reactors.

$\color{magenta}{\star}$ Paul Graham, What doesn't seem like work?, January 2015.

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    $\begingroup$ The MacTutor entry on Ronald Graham states that his two children were named Cheryl and Mark. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ A mathematician working for Westinghouse perhaps did not publish any research. In that case, we would likely not have heard of him. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ @GeraldEdgar why did a mathematician working for Westinghouse perhaps not publish any research? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Ooker ... My conjecture is just statistical. Many mathematicians do "real" work rather than academics. A few industrial mathematicians do also publish, but most do not. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Ooker Yes, but "YC co-founder" should be enough. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 7:50

1 Answer 1


It was John Graham (1933-2017). As Paul says, "for most of my childhood he worked for Westinghouse, modelling nuclear reactors", and he remained in the nuclear industry for the rest of his life. His B.S. in mathematics was from the University of Wales, and he did graduate work at the University of Illinois and the University of London. Here is his short bio from the obituary:

"He was been engaged in nuclear safety for 60 years, including ongoing work with the Pacific Nuclear Council on promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear technologies, since 1997. Graham began a career with Westinghouse in 1969 as Manager of Nuclear Safety at Westinghouse Advanced Reactors Division, Madison, Wisc., with responsibility for safety of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Tennessee, among other projects. In 1985, he became the Licensing Manager for the Basalt Waster Isolation Project.

After he left Westinghouse, he was named the Director of Nuclear Safety for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) until 1992, when he became vice-president of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL). He also worked for the U.K. Atomic Energy Agency as a senior scientist and for the Atomic Energy of Canada Research for British Nuclear Fuels as a Director of Safety. He was a recognized Fellow at Westinghouse... He wrote Fast Reactor Safety in 1971 and authored 25 other books."

Nuclear News ran his extended profile when he was the American Nuclear Society president in 1995-96. He was born in Wales, went to college in the US, then returned to England to work in Harwell labs until 1968, when he got a job at Westinghouse ("Claire had good reason to be upset, Graham concedes. They had two small children at that time - Paul, aged four, and Jennifer, who was less than a year old"). They settled at the US and eventually became American citizens. There is a bit on his engagement with mathematics:

"Mathematics was something I've always liked- I love numbers; they're fascinating. I liked algebra. and I love calculus. I truly believe the whole of life is based on calculus and any aberrations in life are simply aberrations in the calculus... I applied to various places and was accepted at the universities of Ohio and Illinois, and went to the University of Illinois in 1954-55. I studied quantum mechanics and mathematics. I didn't stay to get the master's degree because I didn't think the master's was at all significant, and besides, I wanted to take some time to travel around the States.

I found out that everybody in that graduate department was working on similar problems with slightly different force fields. So I was doing neutron-deuteron impact problems with a given force field. Someone next to me was working with a different force field, and someone else was doing deuteron-deuteron problems with my force field. We were all contributing to the professor's thesis, but we were each only a very small brick in his edifice. That's not very satisfying. So I didn't finish that degree..."

However, it does not seem like he did much mathematical work after the early years, aside from nuclear modeling (MathSciNet lists no publications by him). His profile also has a childhood picture of Paul and Jennifer, his kids, and a picture of him, his wife Claire and Paul, age 30, with a short blurb:

"Today, John and Claire live in Golden, Colo. Claire works in the controller's office for the American Animal Hospital Association (you are not allowed to call it Aaha!). Their son Paul, now age 30, has a doctorate in computer science, but is currently working as an artist and as CEO of ARTIX, a World Wide Web company.

  • $\begingroup$ How did you identify him? Does he have any kinship with Ronald Graham? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 1:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Ooker Working from Paul's remarks about Westinghouse and nuclear safety, John was well known in that area. His profile confirmed that he was the father. No relation to Ronald, he was a natural born American and the name is pretty common on both sides of the pond. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ so you just suspect him right after reading Paul's description? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Ooker No, I did not know of him before. I searched for mathematicians involved with nuclear safety who worked in Westinghouse. His name and bio came up because he was a prominent figure, so I checked. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 9:23

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