Saturday, 25 June 2011

On This Day in Math - June 25

Astronomy was the cradle of the natural sciences and the starting point of geometrical theories.
~Cornelius Lanczos

1641 John Pell begins the work of expanding Walter Warner's table of anti-logarithms from 10,000 to 100,000 entries. Warner felt he was too old to complete the laborious task he had set for  himself, and offered Pell 40 GBPounds (appx. worth 5,000 pounds today) to complete the tables and make them ready for printing.  *Thomas Harriot's Doctrine of Triangular Numbers, Beery &Stedall, pg 39

1665  René Descartes died on 11 February 1650 in Stockholm, Sweden, where he had been invited as a teacher for Queen Christina of Sweden. The cause of death was said to be pneumonia—accustomed to working in bed until noon, he may have suffered a detrimental effect on his health due to Christina's demands for early morning study (the lack of sleep could have severely compromised his immune system). Others believe that Descartes may have contracted pneumonia as a result of nursing a French ambassador, Dejion A. Nopeleen, ill with the aforementioned disease, back to health. In his recent book, Der rätselhafte Tod des René Descartes (The Mysterious Death of René Descartes), the German philosopher Theodor Ebert asserts that Descartes died not through natural causes, but from an arsenic-laced communion wafer given to him by a Catholic priest. He believes that Jacques Viogué, a missionary working in Stockholm, administered the poison because he feared Descartes's radical theological ideas would derail an expected conversion to Roman Catholicism by the monarch of Protestant Lutheran Sweden.*Wik
  After his death in Stockholm, his body was returned to Paris, arriving on 25 Jun 1665 , though the coffin had been looted by his followers for relics in Stockholm.  Supposedly, the coffin was shipped overland from Copenhagen to avoid piracy by English admirers!  The remains were in Ste. Geneviève, then in Lenoir's Museum of French Monuments, and then finally moved to St‑Germain-des-Prés in 1819. His headstone (or gravestone) is in St‑Germain‑des‑Prés, in the second chapel on the right of the apse.   Stephen Jay Gould says the (purported) skull of Descartes is in the Musée de l'Homme, apparently on display.  Arjen Dijksman recently advised me that the Musee de l'Homme is closed for another year, and there has been efforts to move the skull to the Pantheon
Église St-Germain-des-Prés, at 3 Place St-Germain-des-Prés, is the oldest church in Paris. Part of it dates to the 6th century, when a Benedictine abbey was founded on the site by King Childebert, son of Clovis. The church was originally built to house a relic of the True Cross brought from Spain in 542. The Normans destroyed the abbey on multiple occasions and only the marble columns in the triforium remain from the original structure. The carved capitals on the pillars are copies of the originals, which are kept in the Musée National du Moyen-Age. The church was enlarged and reconsecrated by Pope Alexander III in 1163. The abbey was completely destroyed during the Revolution, but the church was spared. The present building is a fine example of Romanesque architecture, with gothic interior elements. The square tower, dating from the early 11th century, is topped by a landmark spire, which dates to the 19th century.  For a time, the abbey served as a pantheon for Merovingian kings. The Chapelle Saint Symphorien, built during the Middle Ages and restored in 1981, served as the necropolis mérovingienne (crypt of the Merovingians). This is the presumed site of first tomb of Saint Germain, Bishop of Paris, who died in 576. Among the others interred here are King Jean-Casimir of Poland.

1712 Brook Taylor suggested that if two glass plates which are clamped together into a “V” are placed into a pan of water then capillary action will draw water up into the shape of a rectangular hyperbola with asymptotes the surface of the water and the point of the “V.” This and several similar experiments performed by Francis Hauksbee before the Royal Society caused Newton to rethink his ideas on capillary force. *VFR

1783  Antonie Lavoisier announced to the French Academy of Sciences that water was the product formed by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen. However, this discovery had been made earlier by the English chemist Henry Cavendish. *TIS

1795 Founding of the Bureau of Longitude in Paris. *VFR

1864 Walther Hermann Nernst German who was one of the founders of modern physical chemistry. In 1889, he devised his theory of electric potential and conduction of electrolytic solutions (the Nernst Equation) and introduced the solubility product to explain precipitation reactions. In 1906, Nernst showed that it is possible to determine the equilibrium constant for a chemical reaction from thermal data, and in so doing he formulated what he himself called the third law of thermodynamics. This states that the entropy, (a thermodynamic measure of disorder in a system), approaches zero as the temperature goes towards absolute zero. For this, he was awarded the 1920 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 1918, he explained the H2-Cl2 explosion on exposure to light as an atom chain reaction. *TIS

1879  Sir William Fothergill Cooke English inventor who worked with Charles Wheatstone in developing electric telegraphy. Of the pair, Cooke contributed a superior business ability, whereas Wheatstone is generally considered the more important of the two in the history of the telegraph. After Cooke attended a demonstration of the use of wire in transmitting messages, he began his own experiments with telegraphy (1836) and formed a partnership with Wheatstone. Their first patent (1837) was impractical because of cost. They demonstrated their five-needle telegraph on 24 July 1837 when they ran a telegraph line along the railway track from Euston to Camden Town able to transmit and successfully receive a message. In 1845, they patented a single-needle electric telegraph. *TIS

1671 Giovanni Battista Riccioli (17 April 1598 – 25 June 1671) Italian astronomer who was the first to observe (1650) a double star (two stars so close together that they appear to be one) - Mizar in Ursa Major, the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper. He also discovered satellite shadows on Jupiter. In 1651, he assigned the majority of the lunar feature names in current use. He named the more prominent features after famous astronomers, scientists and philosophers, while the large dark and smooth areas he called "seas" or "maria". The lunar seas were named after moods (Seas of Tranquillity, Serenity) or terrestrial phenomena (Sea of Rains, Ocean or Storms) His map was published in Almagestum Novum in1651.*TIS
Riccioli studied seventy-seven objections to the Copernican thesis and after studying them Riccioli said that the weight of argument favored a “geo-heliocentric” hypothesis such as that advocated by the great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Riccioli's preference for Tycho's model illustrates something important about how science is done. While today anti-Copernicans are often portrayed as Einstein characterized them (opposed to rational thinking, opposed to science), Riccioli, perhaps the most prominent of the anti-Copernicans, examined the available evidence diligently and rationally. The conclusion he reached was indeed wrong, but wrong because at that time neither the diffraction of light and the Airy disk, nor the details of the Coriolis effect, were understood. Riccioli's anti-Copernican arguments were so solid that they would become subjects of further investigation in physics, long after the Copernican theory had triumphed over the Tychonic theory.*Christopher M. Graney, Teaching Galileo, Physics Teacher V50,1

1941 Alfred Pringsheim died. His work in Fourier series, analytic function theory, and continued fractions was a model of the Weierstrassian approach, although he was not a student of Weier­strass. *VFR

1960 Walter Baade (24 Mar 1893; 25 Jun 1960 at age 67) German-American astronomer who, with Fritz Zwicky, proposed that supernovae could produce cosmic rays and neutron stars (1934), and Baade made extensive studies of the Crab Nebula and its central star. During WW II blackouts of the Los Angeles area Baade used the 100-inch Hooker telescope to resolve stars in the central region of the Andromeda Galaxy for the first time. This led to his definition of two stellar populations, to the realization that there were two kinds of Cepheid variable stars, and from there to a doubling of the assumed scale of the universe. Baade and Rudolph Minkowski identified and took spectrograms of optical counterparts of many of the first-discovered radio sources, including Cygnus A and Cassiopeia A. *TIS

1974 Cornelius Lanczos (2 Feb 1893 - 25 June 1974) worked on relativity and mathematical physics and invented what is now called the Fast Fourier Transform. *SAU

1978 Hsien Chung Wang worked on algebraic topology and discovered the 'Wang sequence', an exact sequence involving homology groups associated with fibre bundles over spheres. These discoveries were made while he worked with Newman in Manchester. Wang also solved, at that time, an important open problem in determining the closed subgroups of maximal rank in a compact Lie group. *SAU

1997 Jacques-Yves Cousteau French naval officer, oceanographer, marine biologist and ocean explorer, known for his extensive underseas investigations. He was co-inventor of the aqualung which made SCUBA diving possible (1943). Cousteau the developed the Conshelf series of manned habitats, the Diving Saucer, a process of underwater television and numerous other platforms and specialized instruments of ocean science. In 1945 he founded the French Navy's Undersea Research Group. He modified a WWII wooden hull minesweeper into the research vessel Calypso, in 1950. An observation dome added to the foot of Calypso's bow was found to increase the ship's stability, speed and fuel efficiency. *TIS2006

2006  Irving "Kap" Kaplansky was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada after his parents emigrated from Poland and attended the University of Toronto as an undergraduate. After receiving his Ph.D  from Harvard in 1941 as Saunders Mac Lane's first student, Kaplansky was professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1984. He was chair of the department from 1962 to 1967.
"Kap," as his friends and colleagues called him, made major contributions to
group theory, ring theory, the theory of operator algebras and field theory. He published over 150 papers with over 20 co-authors. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute from 1984 to 1992, and the President of the American Mathematical Society from 1985 to 1986.
Kaplansky also was a noted pianist known to take part in Chicago performances of Gilbert and Sullivan productions. He often composed music based on mathematical themes. One of those compositions, A Song About Pi, is a melody based on assigning notes to the first 14 decimal places of
Kaplansky was the father of singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky, who occasionally performs A Song About Pi in her act.
He was among the first five recipients of William Lowell Putnam fellowships in 1938.*Wik

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