Johann Carl Friedrich
Gauss (1777-1855) was a celebrated Mathematician,
often cited as the “greatest mathematician since antiquity” or the “Prince of
Mathematicians” due to his significant and influential contributions to modern
mathematics and science.
Gauss was a genius and prodigy who pushed the envelope of knowledge in number
and numerous other mathematical and scientific fields.
Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was born
on April 30,
1777 in Brunswick,
Germany to uneducated parents.
His birth date was not remembered by his mother,
all she could remember that it was a Wednesday eight days prior to Ascension. Gauss later had solved the mystery
of his birth mathematically and even devised a formula in order to determine
the day when Easter will be.
Gauss’s father worked as a gardener,
and laborer and his mother was a homemaker.
Both of Gauss’s parents were known to be illiterate; his father wanted him to
learn trades and discouraged him from attending school. His mother, along with his uncle however saw
that he had potential and sought to provide him an education.
Gauss was seven years old when
he began elementary school and it was then when Gauss’s genius was discovered;
an arithmetic teacher intended to provide his class an assignment that was
thought to be time consuming,
to sum the total of numbers from 1 to 100.
Gauss brilliantly figured the solution out by finding the numerical relation that
every pair equals 101 (e.g. 1+100 = 101, 2 + 99 = 101, etc) then multiplied by 50 and quickly
presented his answer to the teacher’s surprise: 5,050. His exploits as a child prodigy
was noticed by the Duke of Brunswick and he financially supported Gauss’s
education and then research.
Gauss attended the Collegium
Carolinum in 1792 and then moved to the Goettingen University in 1795. Gauss’s accomplishments during the
time included the discoveries of various theorems such as the binomial theorem, prime number theorem, law of quadratic reciprocity, Bode’s law, and the fundamental theorem of
algebra which was written in his book “Disquisitiones Arithmeticae” (Investigations in arithmetic). Gauss had also made contributions
to astronomy when he assisted an astronomer in relocating the then planet Ceres. As astronomers lost track of Ceres’
orbit Gauss had used his method involving least squares to approximate its
location and his estimate being exceedingly different from other estimations, was correct.
Gauss essentially wrote the textbook
about number theory when he published his Disquisitiones Arithmeticae. Number theory involves the
intricate relationships and properties of numbers,
specifically positive integers.
Gauss referred to mathematics as “queen of the sciences” and number theory
specifically “queen of mathematics”.
The book had seven sections and comprised of three introductory, three body sections, and a final section about a
It was his work in proving the law of quadratic reciprocity in section four that
gained him fame.
The last section of Disquisitiones was less involved with number theory, but was focused on the methods
used by Gauss in order to draw a heptadecagon or seventeen-sided polygon using
only a ruler and a compass.
had a penchant for Astronomy; after he assisted in rediscovering Ceres Gauss
published his second book “Theory of the motion of the heavenly bodies
surrounding the sun in conic sections”. The book was in two volumes, the first
volume covered mathematical functions such as differential equations, elliptic
orbits, and conic sections. The second volume demonstrated a process by which an
estimation can be made as to a planet or interstellar object’s orbit and then
how to increase the precision of the estimate as the object is tracked. Gauss
was appointed as the director of the Goettingen University observatory, a
position he remained in until his death in 1855.