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Carl Friedrich Gauss

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Carl Friedrich Gauss

Carl Friedrich Gauss was a scientist and mathematician at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Germany. He is most famous for his groundbreaking work in the fields of algebra, statistics, differential geometry, number theory, electrostatics and optics.

Gauss was born in the Duchy of Braunschweig, now in Lower Saxony, Germany in 1777. He was the son of poor working class parents who did not even note his exact date of birth, which Gauss later calculated on his own. Gauss was a prodigious child and started making mathematical discoveries from his teenage years. He finished his magnum opus on number theory titled Disquisitiones Arithmeticae when he was only twenty-one. The Duke of Braunschweig, very impressed upon meeting Gauss, sponsored him at the Collegium Carolinum and after that Gauss attended the University of Gottingen. While at university, Gauss made the discovery that regular polygons with a number of sides that is a Fermat prime can be constructed with a compass. Gauss himself considered this a very significant discovery and wanted a regular heptadecagon (a polygon with 17 sides) to be inscribed on his tombstone. Gauss also proved that every algebraic equation has at least one root or solution, called the fundamental theorem of algebra. Gauss also calculated the exact position of the dwarf planet Ceres.

Gauss developed a new theory of earth’s magnetism. At Gottingen, as the Director of the Gottingen Observatory, Gauss collaborated with his colleague Wilhelm Weber, a physicist. Together they developed the first electro-mechanical telegraph in 1833. The 1,200 meters long telegraph wire connected the workplaces of the two scientists, the observatory and the institute for physics, above the roofs of the Gottingen buildings and helped in their collaboration and joint research. Instead of a Voltaic pile, Gauss used an induction pulse enabling him to transmit seven letters a minute instead of two. Gauss also ordered a magnetic observatory to be built in the garden of the observatory and founded the magnetic club with Weber to support the measurement of the earth’s magnetic field in different parts of the world.

Gauss’s personal life was fraught with depression over the death of his first and second wives and daughter. One of his daughters Therese took care of him till his death in 1855. Gauss’s contributions to the field of mathematics have earned him the appellation Princeps mathematicorum or ‘The Prince of Mathematics’.