Contents

[edit]

 

[edit] Carl Friedrich Gauss

[edit]
April 30 1777 - Feb 23 1855

[edit] Born Brunswick, Germany. Died Göttingen, Germany.

Image:Gauss.gif Gauss worked in a wide variety of fields in both mathematics and physics incuding number theory, analysis, differential geometry, geodesy, magnetism, astronomy and optics. His work has had an immense influence in many areas. A child prodigy, Gauss taught himself to read and to count by the age of three. Recognising Gauss's talent, the Duke of Brunswick in 1792 provided him with money to allow him to pursue his education. He attended Caroline College from 1792 to 1795 and at this time Gauss formulated the least-squares method and a conjecture on the distribution of primes. This conjecture was proved by Jacques Hadamard in 1896.

In 1795 Gauss went to Göttingen where he discovered the fundamental theorem of quadratic residues.

Gauss developed the concept of complex numbers and in 1799 the University of Helmstedt granted Gauss a Ph.D. for a dissertation that gave the first proof of the fundamental theorem of algebra. In his dissertation Gauss severly criticized Legendre, Laplace and other major mathematicians of the day for their lack of rigour.

At the age of 24 he published Disquisitiones arithmeticae, his theory of numbers, one of the most brilliant achievements in the history of mathematics. The construction of regular polyhedra occur in this work as do integer congruences and the law of quadratic reciprocity.

He also calculated orbits for the minor planets Ceres and Pallas. The asteroid Ceres had been briefly observed in January 1801 but had then, after it had been tracked for 41 days, was lost in the brightness of the Sun. Gauss computed the orbit using his least squares method and correctly predicted where and when Ceres would reappear. After this he accepted a position as astronomer at the Göttingen Observatory.

In 1820 Gauss invented the heliotrope, an instrument with a movable mirror which reflected the Sun's rays. It is used in geodesy. During the late 1820s, in collaboration with the physicist Wilhelm Weber who he met while the guest of Alexander von Humboldt in Berlin, Gauss explored many areas of physics doing basic research in electricity and magnetism, mechanics, acoustics, and optics. In 1833 he constructed the first telegraph.

When in his 80th year a fellow mathematician met him and described him as follows:
... a venerable, fine old fellow, with a contented manly expression. There is an extraordinary aspect of power about him and his every word. He is about 80 years of age, but not a trace of superannuation is seen about him.

Gauss made a careful study of foreign papers in the reading room at Göttingen and in particular made a systematic study of the financial news. This stood him in very good stead since he was able to gain a considerable personal fortune through his dealings on the stock exchange. He died a very rich man.


[edit] Adapted from the MacTutor History of Mathematics archive.