Wolfram's father was a novelist and his mother a professor of philosophy. Often described as a child prodigy, he published an article on particle physics at age 15 and entered Oxford (St John's College) at age 17. He received his Ph.D. in particle physics from Caltech at age 20 and joined the faculty there. At age 21, Wolfram won the MacArthur "Genius" award.
He developed a computer algebra system at Caltech, but the school's patent rules denied him ownership of the invention. He left for the physics department of Princeton University, where he studied cellular automata, mainly with computer simulations. He claimed that cellular automata processes are ubiquitous and underlie much of nature.
Wolfram left for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign[?] and started to develop the computer algebra system Mathematica in 1986, to be released in 1988. He founded a company, Wolfram Research[?], which continues to extend the program and market it with considerable success. Wolfram Research also pays Eric Weisstein[?] to work on his math encyclopedia MathWorld[?], which is hosted at the company's web site.
From 1992 to 2002, Wolfram worked on his book A New Kind of Science, whose central thesis is that some simple cellular automata can exhibit very complex behavior, and that these cellular automata underlie much of nature.