Monday, 20 June 2011

On This Day in Math - June 19



The more I see of men, the better I like my dog.
Blaise Pascal (over 350 years before Carrie Underwood)


EVENTS
240  In 240 BC, Eratosthenes, a Greek astronomer and mathematician, estimated the circumference of the earth. As the director of the great library of Alexandria, he read in a papyrus book that in Syene, approaching noon on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, shadows of temple columns grew shorter. At noon, they were gone. The sun was directly overhead. However, a stick in Alexandria, far to the north, could cast a pronounced shadow. Thus, he realized that the surface of the Earth could not be flat. It must be curved. Not only that, but the greater the curvature, the greater the difference in the shadow lengths. By measurement on the ground and application of geometry, he calculated the circumference of the earth. *TIS


325 The early Christian church opened the council of Nicaea, which decided the rules for computing the date of Easter: The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox *VFR 


In 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova returned to Earth after spending nearly three days as the first woman in space. She had been interested in parachute jumping when she was young, and that expertise was one of the reasons she was picked for the cosmonaut program. She became the first person to be recruited without experience as a test pilot. On 16 Jun 1963, Tereshkova was launched into space aboard Vostok 6, and became the first woman to travel in space. Her radio name was "Chaika," Russian for "seagull." Her flight made 48 orbits of Earth. Tereshkova never made a second trip into space. She became an important member of the Communist Party and a representative of the Soviet government.*TIS

BIRTHS
1623 Blaise Pascal born in Ferrand, Auvergne, France.  He laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities. In hydrodynamics he formulated what came to be known as Pascal's law of pressure, and invented the syringe and hydraulic press. Pascal invented the first digital calculator to help his father with his work collecting taxes. He worked on it for three years (1642-45). The device, called the Pascaline, resembled a mechanical calculator of the 1940s. This, almost certainly, makes Pascal the second person to invent a mechanical calculator for Schickard had manufactured one in 1624. He died at the young age of 39 having been sickly and physically weak through life. Autopsy showed he had been born with a deformed skull.*TIS

1669 Leonty Magnitsky was a Russian teacher who wrote the first guide to mathematics published in Russia.*SAU

1771 Joseph Gergonne born. He came under the influence of Gaspard Monge, the Director of the new École Polytechnique in Paris. In 1810, in response to difficulties he encountered in trying to publish his work, Gergonne founded his own mathematics journal, officially named the Annales de mathématiques pures et appliquées but generally referred to as the Annales de Gergonne. The most common subject of articles in his journal was geometry, Gergonne's specialty. Over a period of 22 years, the Annales de Gergonne published about 200 articles by Gergonne himself, and other articles by many distinguished mathematicians, including Poncelet, Servois, Bobillier, Steiner, Plücker, Chasles, Brianchon, Dupin, Lamé, even Galois.
Gergonne was appointed to the chair of astronomy at the University of Montpellier in 1816. In 1830, he was appointed Rector of the University of Montpellier, at which time he ceased publishing his journal. He retired in 1844.
Gergonne was the first mathematician to employ the word polar. In a series of papers beginning in 1810, he discovered the principle of duality in projective geometry, by noticing that every theorem in the plane connecting points and lines corresponds to another theorem in which points and lines are interchanged, provided that the theorem embodied no metrical notions. In 1816, he devised an elegant solution to the problem of Apollonius: find a circle which touches three given circles.
In 1813, Gergonne wrote the prize-winning essay for the Bordeaux Academy, Methods of synthesis and analysis in mathematics, unpublished to this day and known only via a summary. The essay is very revealing of Gergonne's philosophical ideas. He called for the abandonment of the words analysis and synthesis, claiming they lacked clear meanings. Surprisingly for a geometer, he suggested that algebra is more important than geometry, at a time when algebra consisted almost entirely of the elementary algebra of the real field. He predicted that one day quasi-mechanical methods would be used to discover new results.
In 1815, Gergonne wrote the first paper on the optimal design of experiments for polynomial regression. According to S. M. Stigler, Gergonne is the pioneer of optimal design as well as response surface methodology.

1846 Antonio Abetti (19 Jun 1846, 20 Feb 1928 at age 81) Italian astronomer who was an authority on minor planets. At first a civil engineer, he became an astronomer at the University of Padua (1868-93), with an interest in positional astronomy and made many observations of small planets, comets and star occultations. In 1874, Abetti went to Muddapur, Bengal, to observe the transit of Venus across the sun's disk where his use of a spectroscope was the first use of this kind. Later, he became director at the Arcetri Observatory and Professor of astronomy at the University of Florence (1894-1921). The observatory had been founded by G. B. Donati in 1872, and Abetti equipped it with a new telescope that he had built in the workshops at Padua. He was active after retirement, until his death, and was followed by his son Giorgio.*TIS
1851 Silvanus P. Thomson born. In 1910 he published Calculus Made Easy, which was published anonymously until after his death in 1916. It is still in print. *VFR  He was a noted physicist and engineer, and a celebrated teacher and writer on electricity and magnetism. He also wrote popular biographies of Faraday and Lord Kelvin. At his death he was professor at City and Guilds Technical College at Finsbury (London). Thompson’s particular gift was in his ability to communicate difficult scientific concepts in a clear and interesting manner. He attended and lectured at the Royal Institution giving the Christmas lectures in 1896 on Light, Visible and Invisible with an account of Röntgen Light. He was an impressive lecturer and the radiologist AE Barclay said that: “None who heard him could forget the vividness of the word-pictures he placed before them.”

DEATHS

1945 Stefan Mazurkiewicz, one of the founders of Fundamenta Mathematicae, died.


Credits:
*VFR = V Frederick Rickey, USMA
*TIS= Today in Science History
*Wik = Wikipedia
*SAU=St Andrews Univ. Math History
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