Questions tagged [biographical-details]

For questions about the details of a particular scientist's life.

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66
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4answers
10k views

Why was Évariste Galois killed?

It is well known that Évariste Galois died a young man. I have heard that he died in a duel. What was the duel about? More rather what is the back story behind his death and did he really write down ...
58
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1answer
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What's the famous story about a mathematician who gave a talk without saying a word?

Years ago, I read a story about a mathematician who found a numerical counterexample to some conjecture long believed to be true. He gave a talk during which he didn't utter a single word but simply ...
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6answers
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What is the difference between Calculus of Newton and that of Leibniz?

Are there any differences between the study of Calculus done by Newton as compared to that done by Leibniz? If yes, please mention point by point.
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What motivated Cantor to invent set theory?

I can't imagine mathematics without sets, but the question "what was mathematics like before there were sets" is not answerable, I think. Instead, a good answer to the title question should cover a ...
33
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4answers
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Whose shoulders did Newton stand on?

In a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676, Newton wrote: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Do we know which giants Newton was referring to? And was he referring to a ...
28
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1answer
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Was object oriented programming influenced by the mathematical category theory?

Object oriented programming (OOP) is a programming model where code and data are encapsulated into units called objects that behave semi-autonomously. Interaction between objects is arranged through ...
25
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2answers
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What attracted Einstein to the anomalous precession of Mercury?

The story is usually told starting with Einstein's 1915 paper Explanation of the Perihelion Motion of Mercury from General Relativity Theory, or at least its drafts from 1913-14. It was the first ...
22
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Hilbert's reaction to Gödel's incompleteness theorems

Is it known how Hilbert initially reacted to Gödel's incompleteness theorems upon their announcement at the Königsberg conference in 1930, or their publication in 1931?
20
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Literary works authored by mathematicians

At a first glance, Mathematics and Literature look like two completely unrelated subjects. I wonder whether there are examples of acclaimed mathematicians which wrote novels, poems, or other ...
19
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Did Abraham De Moivre really predict his own death?

At the last point of his life, he noted that he slept 15 minutes extra every night then he calculated that he would die on the day that the extra 15 minutes a night accumulated to 24 hours. That day ...
19
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6answers
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Claims of mathematical breakthroughs while in an altered state of consciousness?

A similar question is found below: Scientific progress claimed to be caused by dreaming Has anyone ever made similar claims regarding other altered states of consciousness, besides dreaming? I know ...
19
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3answers
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What mathematical developments/discoveries caused imaginary numbers to gain acceptance at the time (18th century) they did?

In a Wiki article on imaginary numbers it was asserted that "the use of imaginary numbers was not widely accepted until the work of Leonhard Euler (1707–1783) and Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855)." ...
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What was the relationship between Einstein and Minkowski?

I read many Einstein's Biographies, but Minkowski was never mentioned, though his discovery of the union of space and time created the basis for GR. Minkowski was Einstein's teacher of mathematics ...
19
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3answers
512 views

What was the connection between David Hilbert and Stefan Banach?

The so-called "Hilbert space" is named after mathematician David Hilbert. Later, this was generalized into "Banach spaces" by Stefan Banach. My understanding is that Hilbert was ...
19
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1answer
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What cipher(s) did Isaac Newton use?

A number of sources including this one assert that Isaac Newton used encrypted messages to communicate some of his scientific discoveries, and as a way of establishing priority. What cipher(s) did he ...
18
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4answers
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Did the pioneers of nuclear physics and radioactivity eventually get sick from their experiments?

We read about nuclear physics and radioactivity in books and we know how to keep safe from their harmful effects, but the physicists who first discovered them didn't have that luxury. Did the pioneers ...
18
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2answers
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What was different about Planck's quantization of light compared to Einstein's?

In describing black body radiation Planck assumed that the energy that can be absorbed or emitted by charges is quantized, i.e., they can only absorb or emit certain quantities of energy. But it was ...
18
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1answer
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How was the Möbius strip discovered?

Britannica is terse:"Möbius discovered this surface in 1858. The German mathematician Johann Benedict Listing had discovered it a few months earlier, but he did not publish his discovery until 1861". ...
18
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1answer
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Why did Rene Descartes go to Sweden?

The year before he died, mathematician Rene Descartes accepted an invitation to tutor the brilliant 19-year old Queen Christina of Sweden (some thirty years younger). He apparently died from the ...
18
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1answer
457 views

Did Archimedes use epicycles in his planetarium?

Archimedes constructed a planetarium where as described by Cicero "he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with ...
17
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3answers
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Is this Einstein rejection letter fake?

So I found this on the internet the other day- Is this fake? Are there any ways to prove that it's fake? Does there, if any, exist any real copy of such a rejection letter?(Was Einstein ever ...
17
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1answer
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Was Kolmogorov enraged after learning about the Karatsuba multiplication algorithm?

Some years ago, I read that Kolmogorov was so enraged that Karatsuba disproved one of his conjectures that he terminated his seminar shortly thereafter. This Wikipedia page claims that Kolmogorov was ...
17
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700 views

Did Kontsevich start a lecture with “one I will not define, the other nobody knows how to define, and we will be proving that they are equivalent”?

The story was circulating in early 2000s, so presumably it happened in 1990s. Kontsevich, it goes, opened a lecture course on mirror symmetry with:"This course is about two categories. One I will not ...
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3answers
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Did light bulb companies commission Planck to study black body radiation?

Background When introducing Planck's switch to looking at black-body radiation, a number of sources -- like MinutePhysics, the Economist, random online encyclopaedias and even here on HSM.SE (plus ...
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Did Alfred Nobel collect his wealth by selling dynamite?

At the start of my chemistry course, my professor told a story: He said that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite (which is true) and he accumulated his wealth by selling it to both parties A and B (...
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1answer
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Which mathematician traveled to and moved in with each collaborator?

I remember a video, perhaps a Numberphile episode where a mathematician was described who would simply move in to the home of a collaborator with which they were engaged to so that they could work ...
15
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1answer
312 views

What kind of mathematical education did Leibniz have?

It doesn't seem that he began his life in mathematics. Does anyone know how it came to be ? What did he read ?
15
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1answer
416 views

Cauchy's undead theory

A well known urban legend states that Cauchy's last words to the Academy where: C'est ce que j'expliquerai plus au long dans un prochain mémoire. ("I will explain it in greater detail in my next ...
15
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1answer
591 views

In what instances did Wolfgang Pauli say that something was 'not even wrong'?

One famous quote I've heard of Wolfgang Pauli is It is not even wrong. I've also heard that Pauli had a blustery, often unpleasant personality, and I vaguely recall hearing the phrase used in ...
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Why did Einstein help in the development of the Quantum theory if he didn't agree with it?

I read the book "A Brief History of Time" By Stephan Hawking. It states that Einstein helped scientists like Pauli etc. in the development of the quantum theory and even shared the Nobel Prize with ...
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3answers
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Grothendieck's Approach to Solving Problems

Alexander Grothendieck is known to have revolutionized several areas of mathematics. His insights were very deep, original and revolutionary. Time after time he showed that he could see in ways that ...
14
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1answer
534 views

Who are some great scientists/mathematicians with not-so-great pre/mid-career credentials?

I am looking for examples of great minds (on any personally defined level) in the history of science and mathematics that had a considerably lesser pre/mid-career reputation/lifestyle/upbringing/etc. ...
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Did Richard Feynman ever meet Stephen Hawking or comment on Hawking radiation?

I was just curious what Richard Feynman thought of Stephen Hawking's Hawking Radiation. Feynman was one of the developers of quantum field theory and Hawking's work would have been cutting edge on the ...
13
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1answer
653 views

Was Pólya’s “How To Solve It” originally written in German or English (or some other language)?

I seem to fail at googling a simple question: In which language did Pólya originally write “How To Solve It” (or “Schule des Denkens”, as is the German title)? Did he translate the book himself to ...
13
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1answer
515 views

What were 12 year old Pitts' objections to Principia Mathematica?

In Wikipedia on the page dedicated to Walter Pitts (accesses today), it is written that, He is widely remembered to have spent three days in a library, at the age of 12, reading Principia ...
13
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1answer
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Did Grothendieck really say that he felt “clumsy, even oafish, wandering painfully up an arduous track”?

Here I found the following quote, attributed to the great Grothendieck: Since then I’ve had the chance in the world of mathematics that bid me welcome, to meet quite a number of people, both among my ...
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2answers
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Was Dirac really trying to take the square root of the Klein-Gordon operator?

As a student of physics one will, on several occasions, indubitably hear professors or other physicists (here is an example, from Physics.SE's highest-rep user John Rennie) tell the famous story that ...
13
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1answer
758 views

Notation for Christoffel symbols

In Christoffel's 1869 paper in which he introduced the Christoffel symbols on the 3rd and 4th pages, they are written as $\left[\substack{ij \\ k}\right]$ and $\{\substack{ij \\ k}\}$. The notation $...
12
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3answers
547 views

What resources are available for lives of recent mathematicians besides E.T. Bell's Men of Mathematics?

I am about halfway through reading E.T. Bell's Men of Mathematics, and I absolutely love it. I'm a mathematician, and I enjoy learning about the lives behind the names that I know and use so often. (I ...
12
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3answers
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Did Isaac Newton burn Robert Hooke's picture?

A well-known TV series hinted some time ago that Isaac Newton burnt the only known picture of Robert Hooke. Is it true?
12
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4answers
866 views

In a popular anecdote, who took 20 minutes to decide that a thing was obvious?

The joke is found on this comment chain on Reddit. One user told the joke: The version I heard is that Pauli was lecturing, and he said "this is obvious". A student raises his hand and says "sorry ...
12
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1answer
406 views

Hawking on Newton and the famed apple

If I recall correctly, Stephen Hawking mentioned in A Brief History of Time that Newton remarked once that the famed apple actually distracted him from his lucubrations. Does anybody know where it ...
12
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2answers
662 views

How did Grothendieck encounter and adopt the categorical language?

Apparently the first mathematical publication of Grothendieck where he uses the terms “functor” and “category” in the technical sense is the Kansas report. From where Grothendieck had knowledge of ...
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2answers
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Why did Einstein stop publishing so many papers in Annalen der Physik?

In his early years (actually, straight through the early 1910s), Albert Einstein published a lot of papers in Annalen der Phyisk, a very old and prominent German scientific journal. However, this ...
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0answers
125 views

Did Walter Pitts refuse to allow his name to be made publicly available?

I read on the Wikipedia page on Walter Pitts that : Pitts was also described as an eccentric, refusing to allow his name to be made publicly available. He refused all offers of advanced ...
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816 views

What is the original source for Abel's quote about Gauss:“He is like the fox, who effaces his tracks in the sand with his tail”?

According to the editor of the German version of Ian Stewart's "The Problems of Mathematics", on page 226 of the biography of Gauß authored by Erich Worbs (C. F. Gauß: Ein Lebensbild. Koehler & ...
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1answer
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Who discovered pigeonhole principle in mathematics?

The principle was used as early as late 1760s by Lagrange but are there any earlier uses of it in math?
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1answer
253 views

What were Hilbert's weekly 1933 lectures on “matters of general intellectual interest” about?

Saunders Mac Lane says he attended Hilbert's weekly lectures on "matters of general intellectual interest" around 1931 or 1933 (Saunders Mac Lane: A Mathematical Autobiography p. 44). I believe these ...
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1answer
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Is the anecdote about Niels Bohr keeping a horseshoe on his door true?

I recently came to know of an anecdote about Niels Bohr that the philosopher Slavoj Zizek claims to have read in a biography of Bohr. He doesn't specify the author or the biography. The anecdote ...
10
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2answers
406 views

Why did Max Planck forbid women from attending his lectures?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lise_Meitner: Encouraged by her father and backed by his financial support, she went to the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin where famous physicist Max Planck ...

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