Questions tagged [biographical-details]

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

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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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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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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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37 votes
3 answers
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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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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 ...
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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 ...
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22 answers
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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 ...
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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?
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What hair color did Évariste Galois have?

There is one historic black and white portrait of Évariste Galois that is often used [1]. However there are a number of more recent colorful portraits that imagine him to be anything from straw blond[...
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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
3 answers
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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 ...
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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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20 votes
1 answer
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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 ...
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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 ...
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19 votes
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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 ...
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19 votes
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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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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 ...
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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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18 votes
2 answers
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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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18 votes
1 answer
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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". ...
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18 votes
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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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17 votes
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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 ...
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17 votes
3 answers
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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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17 votes
2 answers
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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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17 votes
0 answers
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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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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 ...
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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 ...
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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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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 ?
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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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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 ...
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15 votes
1 answer
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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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14 votes
5 answers
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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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14 votes
1 answer
707 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 ...
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14 votes
1 answer
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Does Arnold say that Hardy is responsible for Ramanujan's untimely death?

Mathematician Vladimir Arnold in his book Yesterday and Long Ago, Springer (2007) writes: When I resided at Cambridge as a senior fellow of Trinity College, Indian colleagues told me some details ...
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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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14 votes
1 answer
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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 ...
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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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2 answers
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Who was Richard Thompson?

There is family of famous groups with unusual group-theoretic properties due to a mathematician called Richard Thompson that are widely studied in group theory. The papers on these groups and the ...
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13 votes
3 answers
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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 ...
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13 votes
1 answer
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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 ...
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13 votes
2 answers
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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 ...
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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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13 votes
1 answer
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How did Jun John Sakurai die?

How did theoretical physicist Jun John Sakurai die? The only result from extensive googling is that he died "suddenly" while working at CERN. Does anyone know anything more specific?
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13 votes
0 answers
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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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12 votes
3 answers
705 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 ...
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12 votes
3 answers
3k views

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?
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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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