Carl Gauss

Remembering the ‘Prince of Mathematicians’ Who Had An Exceptional Influence on Science.

Known as the Prince of Mathematicians, Carl Gauss has had an exceptional influence in many fields of mathematics and science. His remarkable contributions to number theory, geometry, probability theory, geodesy, planetary astronomy, the theory of functions, and potential theory, including the theory of electromagnetism, have fairly ranked him as one of the most influential mathematicians and physicists in history. So today, on Gauss’s 244th birth anniversary, let’s have a look at the extraordinary and intellectual life of Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Remembering the 'Prince of Mathematicians' Who Had An Exceptional Influence on Science. 2
Carl Friedrich Gauss

Early life and education

Gauss was born on April 30, 1777, to poor, working-class parents in Brunswick, Germany. Although a sincere man, Carl’s father was a harsh parent who always discouraged his young son from attending school. He expected him to follow one of the family trades. Luckily, Gauss’s mother and uncle Friedrich were aware of Carl’s genius and supported him in developing his intelligence with education.

Gauss was a child prodigy and never failed to amuse his peers and masters with his mathematical skills. Once his schoolmaster gave his class an assignment to write down all the whole numbers from 1 to 100 and add their sum. The teacher expected the class to take a pretty good time to finish this exercise. However, to his surprise, Carl solved it in no time.

When the results were examined, most of them were wrong. But when the schoolmaster looked at Carl’s slate, he was astounded to see only one number, i.e., 5,050. When Carl was asked to explain his results, he said he found the result because he could see that 1+100=101, 2+99=101, 3+98=101. Eventually, he found 50 pairs of numbers between 1 and 100 that each add up to 101. Thus, 50 times 101 will equal 5,050.

Moreover, when Gauss turned 14, he got an opportunity to show his mathematical genius to Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick. The Duke got so impressed with Carl that he pledged to provide him financial support to help him continue his studies at Caroline College. Later, at the end of his college, Gauss made another tremendous discovery. He found that a regular polygon with 17 sides could be drawn using just a compass and straight edge. This discovery made Gauss so proud of himself that he gave up all his intentions to study languages and decided to devote himself completely to mathematics, eventually continuing his higher studies in mathematics at University of Göttingen.

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Contributions to science

Although Carl Gauss is mostly regarded as a mathematician, his contributions aren’t only limited to mathematics, but also to physics and astronomy. Here are some of Gauss’ most celebrated discoveries:

Contributions to Mathematics

While pursuing his studies at the University of Göttingen, Carl Gauss submitted a proof that proved the long-awaited “fundamental theorem of algebra.” As per this theorem, every algebraic equation has at least one root or solution. The theorem had challenged the mathematicians for centuries, and this proof came as a fresh breeze for the mathematicians. Gauss also made important contributions to number theory with his 1801 book Disquisitiones Arithmeticae.

Remembering the 'Prince of Mathematicians' Who Had An Exceptional Influence on Science. 3
Title page of Gauss’s Disquisitiones Arithmeticae

Moreover, Gauss conjectured theorems, including Fermat’s polygonal number theorem for n = 3, Fermat’s last theorem for n = 5, Descartes’s rule of signs, and Kepler conjecture for regular arrangements. He developed a method of calculating the date of Easter. Carl Gauss is also credited for expounding the pentagramma mirificum. In addition to this, Carl gave the Cooley–Tukey FFT algorithm for calculating the discrete Fourier transforms about 160 years before Cooley and Tukey did.

Contributions to Physics and Astronomy

An Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi tracked Ceres, a dwarf planet, on 1 January 1801. He could track it for almost more than a month in the night sky. Later on, it disappeared temporarily behind the Sun’s glare, and Piazzi was unable to track it when it reappeared after several months. Eventually, their observations were communicated to Gauss who then calculated its exact position, so that it was easily rediscovered. Apart from this, Gauss also worked on a new method for determining the orbits of new asteroids.

When it comes to Carl Gauss’s contributions in Physics, his work in the area of electromagnetism cannot be ignored. Gauss drew important mathematical consequences from his work on potential theory, an important branch of mathematical physics arising in the study of electromagnetism and gravitation. His work paved the way to a fundamental law in the area of electromagnetism, that is the Gauss’s law in electrostatics and Gauss’s law in magnetostatics, that not only proved out to be a landmark law in the study of electromagnetism but also earned Carl Gauss extensive fame in the world of physicists.

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Portrait of Carl Gauss that was published in 1828
Portrait of Carl Gauss that was published in 1828

Throughout his life, Carl Gauss devoted himself to exploring mathematics and physics in the real world. He kept his ideas, problems, and solutions in private diaries and refused to publish theories that were not finished and perfect. Gauss even used his mathematical skills to carry out a geodetic survey of the Kingdom of Hanover and linking it up with previous Danish surveys. He invented the heliotrope, an instrument that uses a mirror to reflect sunlight over great distances to measure positions.

Carl Gauss was a prodigy who made many notable contributions to mathematics and physics. Throughout his life, he kept inspiring people through his works that brought many revolutions especially in the field of algebra and electromagnetism. Undoubtedly, Carl Gauss is a true icon of enlightenment for the young scientific minds.

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