History of humanity is full of stories about achievements of outstanding men and women. It is even more interesting and captivating when we read about mathematicians. I will try to list down the great people of mathematics who were the driving force of conceptual thinking and intellectual advancement of mathematics. This is in continuation with a story I wrote some time ago.
No one know where the first class in mathematics was held. But all of us know for pretty sure what could have been the first theorem proved. Pre historic math was used for studying geometry and planetary. Greeks mastered this field of mathematics. Euclid, Aristotle, Archimedes and Pythagoras were the most noted mathematicians. They all are philosophers too. For good, once, a great mastery over written and oratory skill of a language was needed to practice mathematics.
In India, Baskara wrote Lilavati, a book written in poetic verses about mathematics. But the scene shifted slowly. As math became more abstract words and verses gave away to numbers and symbols.
I would say the most successful and interesting mathematicians were from late 18th century and 19th century. I would call them modern-day mathematicians, most of them went on to make a lot. If Newton was considered as amateur mathematician, Euler, Gauss, Galois, Reimann, Weirstrauss, Hardy, Ramanujan and Einstein were considered as the celebrities in mathematics.
My favorite mathematicians would be Galois, Gauss, Ramanujan and Euler. Galois and Ramanujan in spite of being poor achieved so many things, died young and left quite lot of impact. Where as Gauss and Euler lived up to ripe age, achieved great amount of deeds, left behind rich literature and good students.
Evariste Galois – A Revolutionist Mathematician
Galois lived up for twenty years and was able to achieve many things when he was in his teens. He was active in French revolution too. Galois was killed in a street dual, allegedly fighting for his lover. What we know today as his contributions were written in a night before the eventual duel. In the letter he wrote that night, he was desperate to prove theorems but has left side notes saying there is no time to prove them.
Galois is responsible for an entire field of study in mathematics itself. He questioned and answered about reducibility of a polynomial. The field is known as Galois theory. Two hundred years later Andrew Wiles used Galois theory to solve Fermat’s last theorem, a problem every mathematician desired to solve. Today Galois theory is used in computer security to rocket science.
Perhaps Galois is the only mathematician who can be associated with revolution, guns, duels, love, girls and abstract algebra.
Srinivasa Ramanujan – The Indian Clerk
Ramanujan is a mathematical prodigy, he did not have a formal training in mathematics. Yet Ramanujan produced gem of theories in number theory, continued fraction and analysis.
When Paul Erdos asked G. H. Hardy, what was his greatest contribution to mathematics? Without hesitation Hardy replied it was finding Ramanujan. The relation Ramanujan and Hardy shared was a special one. Ramanujan attributed his mathematical insights to goddess Namakal. Where as Hardy is an atheist and would always ask for rigorous proof, Ramanujan would some times jot down proofs based purely on intention.
Hardy would write letters, seal the envelope, claiming that he has solved Reimann hypothesis before setting out for a journey or boat ride. Hardy believed if God existed, he would not like Hardy getting fame as some one who were able to solve the Reimann hypothesis posthumously. Hardy would argue because of this, God would always take care of his safe journey.
Hardy considered his relationship with Ramanujan as one of the romantic incidents.
Carl Friedrich Gauss – The Prince among Mathematicians
Gauss is considered as the prince of mathematics. Gauss was able to contribute most of mathematical fields. Reimann is his famous student.
Leonhard Euler – The Master Mathematician
Euler is known as the most productive mathematician ever. Euler contributed to most of mathematics and physics. An interesting story involving his eye sight is very famous.
When Euler started loosing eye sight in one of his eyes and asked about how he feels, he replied, now I have less distraction. Very soon he lost his total eye sight, but he did not stop writing. In fact this period was the most productive period of Euler’s life. Some one said, since Euler lost eye sight and could not see the outside world, he started seeing the inside world of mathematics and discovering the hidden connections.
So, tell me, who is your favorite mathematician?