Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Memorable Birthday: Leonhard Euler Turns 300 Today.

Today is the 300th birthday of Leonard Euler, a supernova of a mathematician. He's universally regarded as the greatest mathematician of the 18th century, and by some as the greatest mathematician of all time.

Wikipedia has a fairly good biography of Euler, and his contributions to mathematics, so I need not add much detail.

A few pieces of trivia offer an idea of his accomplishments: Euler

  • studied and taught at the Courts of Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great
  • graduated from university at the age of 16
  • fathered 13 children, of whom 5 lived to become adults
  • knew the entire Aeneid by heart, including the page numbers of each line
  • could do math in his head that most accomplished mathematicians couldn't do on paper
  • knew Voltaire, disapproved of the philosophe, but liked to debate with him. On one occasion, Diderot allegedly gave a long-winded speech in which he claimed to prove the inexistence of God. At the end of the speech, Euler, a pastor's son, and a man thoroughly conventional in his politics and religion, went up to the blackboard, and wrote e^(i*(pi)(=-1, ergo God exists. Whichever pretentious French philosophe it was, realized that he had no hope of understanding this discovery of Euler's, much less debating Euler on it, so that was the end of the discussion.
Physicists and mathematicians sometimes joke that, in order to avoid naming everything after Euler, discoveries or theorems are named after the "first person after Euler to discover it".

De Condorceret described Euler's death with the following words: "He ceased to calculate and to live."

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