Questions tagged [biographical-details]

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

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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 ...
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37 votes
4 answers
6k views

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 ...
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8 votes
2 answers
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Why did Einstein oppose quantum uncertainity?

Einstein always believed that everything is certain, and we can calculate everything. That's why he rejected quantum mechanics, due to its factor of uncertainty. But still quantum physics was right. ...
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63 votes
1 answer
8k views

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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12 votes
3 answers
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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 ...
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38 votes
6 answers
14k views

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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12 votes
1 answer
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Did Cauchy forget or lose mathematical papers aside from Abel's and Galois's?

Augustin-Louis Cauchy was a prolific writer, his writings range widely in mathematics and mathematical physics. As a professor at École Polytechnique he came in contact and reviewed Abel's and Galois' ...
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7 votes
2 answers
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Did Poincaré say that set theory is a disease?

This question has been discussed on several sites including MathOverflow but with not definite result. Presumely HSE is best suited. Jeremy Gray denies that Poincare said, "Later generations will ...
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25 votes
2 answers
2k views

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 ...
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14 votes
1 answer
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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 $...
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18 votes
1 answer
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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 ...
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20 votes
2 answers
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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 ...
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9 votes
1 answer
574 views

What have we learned from Einstein's unsuccessful dream of unifying electromagnetism and gravity?

In the wiki page about unsuccessful investigations of Einstein, there is only one sentence describe his unsuccessful of unifying general relativity with electromagnetism: Einstein spent many years ...
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7 votes
2 answers
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Did Galileo perform an experiment at the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Galileo's pupil Viviani said that Galileo dropped unequal weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and observed them to take equal times to hit the ground. Galileo's own writings do not describe such an ...
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6 votes
1 answer
312 views

Fraenkel's appointment at Göttingen

Abraham Fraenkel grandpère writes on page 127 of his book recently translated into English: My professional career began in March 1919 with... an invitation to Göttingen to Privy Counselor Felix ...
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6 votes
1 answer
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Meaning of passages by Gauss on the "convergence of expansions (in infinite series) of the (elliptical) equation of the center"?

Yesterday I took my time to look again into Schlesinger's essay on Gauss's contributions to analysis, and I found something new I didn't know about (so it caught my eye) in the last subsection of the ...
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72 votes
5 answers
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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 ...
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30 votes
1 answer
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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 ...
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22 votes
22 answers
4k views

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 ...
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37 votes
3 answers
3k views

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 ...
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20 votes
6 answers
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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 ...
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20 votes
1 answer
3k views

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 ...
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19 votes
3 answers
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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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14 votes
1 answer
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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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9 votes
4 answers
6k views

Who said that essentially everything in theoretical physics had already been discovered?

There is an anecdote that appears in various popular books on physics, about a physics professor who advised a student of his not to pursue a career in physics since almost all that was to be ...
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19 votes
4 answers
20k views

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 ...
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13 votes
2 answers
2k views

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 ...
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18 votes
4 answers
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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 ...
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17 votes
3 answers
2k views

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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12 votes
1 answer
459 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 ...
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12 votes
1 answer
489 views

Alexander Grothendieck's "stolen" correspondence in 1985?

On the website that now displays the part of Grothendieck's archives that had been held at the University of Montpellier, it is mentioned that: Dans une lettre adressée à Monsieur Lefranc datée du 13 ...
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8 votes
2 answers
2k views

Did Feynman develop QED based on Stueckelberg's manuscript?

I found some rumors on the internet regarding Stückelbergs manuscript and it's role for the development of QED. In a comment on here somebody writes: Crease and Mann say in their book The Second ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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An English copy of One Hundred Authors Against Einstein?

I've been trying to find the famous article, "One hundred authors against Einstein" (100 Autoren gegen Einstein), of various objections to special relativity, which is quite often referenced, but ...
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3 votes
4 answers
687 views

Did Kronecker attribute immutable origin to the integers?

The familiar quote is often incorrectly attributed to Kronecker directly. Actually a colleague of his named Weber claimed after Kronecker's death that Kronecker said this. I have doubts about this ...
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9 votes
3 answers
3k views

Robert Hooke and the Inverse Square Law

In borel, emile, 1922, l'espace et le temps, paris: alcan there is a claim that Robert Hooke discovered an inverse square relation of gravitating bodied prior Isaac Newton, who later applied it more ...
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8 votes
3 answers
1k views

Scientists with exceptionally good or bad memory

I'd like to know about examples of prominent scientists having exceptionally good memory, with anecdotes if possible, and how it affected their work. It would also be interesting to see examples of ...
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8 votes
2 answers
365 views

First papers on holomorphic functions

Briot and/or Cauchy are often said to have written the first papers on holomorphic functions, explicitly discussing them as such and their special properties. Which papers are these? When and where ...
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7 votes
2 answers
603 views

Did Gauss know Jacobi's four squares theorem?

In pp. 283–285 of volume 2 of Dickson's “history of the theory of numbers” appear several formulas of striking similarity: some of them are stated by Gauss (p. 283) and some are stated by Jacobi (p. ...
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6 votes
0 answers
145 views

F. Schoblik's announced ''ausführliche Darstellung": a lost wrong proof of the Four Color Theorem?

In (the AMS Chelsea Publishing version of) what is perhaps the first genuine textbook on graph theory ever, Dénes Kőnig on p. 28 gives the illustration and the footnote which when translated says ...
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5 votes
1 answer
227 views

What results did C. F. Gauss add to Euler’s dioptrics?

I’m a fan of C. F. Gauss but I have to be objective — I don’t understand why the classical theory of lenses is called “Gaussian optics”. I think so since it seems that almost all the results of Gauss’...
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4 votes
3 answers
544 views

Best books/papers on Newton and his mathematical physics

In your opinion, what are some of the best books/papers on Newton and his work that accurately cover the connections between his geometric proofs in the Principia and his development of the calculus ...
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4 votes
2 answers
184 views

Did F. P. Ramsey complete a graduate degree?

There are numerous online sources giving biographical sketches of Ramsey's life; E.g., Wikipedia, Cambridge respository, St. Andrews MacTutor. We learn that Ramsey died just before his 27th birthday ...
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3 votes
1 answer
328 views

Question about Hermite's 1858 solution to the quintic equation using elliptic modular functions and it's relation to Gauss' and Jacobi's work

The general quintic equation cannot be solved by radicals and is shown in a landmark and far reaching work of Galois from 1832, which became a template of modern Group theory and Galois theory. ...
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3 votes
1 answer
306 views

Several questions about Gauss's contributions to electromagnetism

First of all, i appologize if i'm asking too many questions about Gauss (and some will also say "not very interesting questions"); i know i might appear ridiculus - but i really think it's an ...
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  • 3,969
3 votes
1 answer
330 views

Where did Fermi get the U235 for the first nuclear pile?

I am puzzled as to where or who produced the U235 for the first nuclear pile. I read that graphite was used as a neutron moderator but only .7 % of natural uranium is U235. He must have gotten it ...
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3 votes
2 answers
553 views

Did Gauss's expression for the differential of the hyperbolic volume of the tetrahedron agree with later results?

My question is mainly about getting explanation to Gauss's third note (note III) in his writing "Zur Astralgeometrie", (see Cubierung der Tetraeder, pages 228-229), and about placing it in the right ...
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  • 3,969
0 votes
6 answers
555 views

Is there any scientist whose work was not recognised during his/her lifetime and was underestimated?

A lot of people have contributed to the development of science (which includes mathematics). I have read that Newton's popularity was powerful enough to dominate the wave-model. Similarly, do we have ...
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8 votes
1 answer
1k views

How did Wittgenstein fulfill eligibility requirements for a PhD in philosophy without having a Bachelor's degree in philosophy?

The Wikipedia article about Wittgenstein says: In Norway it was clear that Moore was expected to act as Wittgenstein's secretary, taking down his notes, with Wittgenstein falling into a rage when ...
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6 votes
2 answers
490 views

Did Gauss formulate, or at least know of, the full essence of the Gauss-Bonnet Theorem?

I know that a special case of the Bonnet theorem, called the Theorema Elegantissimum, was proved by Gauss in his 1827 treatise on differential geometry. This was a theorem that dealt with the ...
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  • 3,969
5 votes
0 answers
176 views

What was Gauss's theoretical work related to his invention of the "Double-Gauss lens"?

Gauss's contributions (Dioptriche Untersuchungen, 1840) to the "classical" optical theory (Gaussian optics, i.e calculations made under the paraxial approximation) are well known, but long before he ...
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