Tuesday, 30 August 2011

On This Day in Math - Aug 30

Frustra fit per plura, quod fieri potest per pauciora.
It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.
~William of Ockham

The 242nd day of the year; 242 has six divisors...but 243, 244, and 245 also each has six divisors. 242 is the smallest integer to begin a run of four consecutive integers all of which have the same number of divisors. (What is the smallest integer that begins a run of three consecutive integers with an equal number of divisors?)

In 1831, Charles Darwin replied to the letter from Revd. Henslow telling him of the offer to sail on the H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin's had learned natural history from Henslow, who had recommended him for the unpaid position as a naturalist. Darwin told Henslow that his father would not permit him to leave on such a voyage. Meanwhile, his father had written to his brother-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood II, about his concerns regarding the proposed two-year jaunt. This afternoon Darwin prepared to join the Wedgwoods for the next day's beginning of the shooting season by riding to Maer Hall, the Wedgwood home. The Darwin family was related to the Wedgwood family through the marriage of Darwin's father to the daughter of the first Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter. *TIS

1791  Thomas Jefferson sends a letter to Benjamin Banneker after receiving his almanac and a letter announcing that, "Sir, I freely and cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race, and in that color which is natural to them of the deepest dye".  Jefferson responds that, " I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th. instant and for the Almanac it contained. no body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colours of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America. I can add with truth that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecillity of their present existence, and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them. I am with great esteem, Sir, Your most obedt. humble servt. Th. Jefferson" *Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, SUNY at Buffalo

In 1831, Michael Faraday demonstrated the first electrical transformer.*TIS

1908 A committee appointed by the Swiss society of naturalists reported its willingness, provided sufficient financial assistance could be secured, to publish the complete works of Euler in about 40 volumes. Today 80 volumes of Euler’s Opera Omnia have been published, and the end is hardly in sight.*VFR

In 1963, the "Hot Line" communications link between the White House, Washington D.C. and the Kremlin, Moscow, went into operation to provide a direct two-way communications channel between the American and Soviet governments in the event of an international crisis. This was one year after the Cuban Missile Crisis. It consisted of one full-time duplex wire telegraph circuit, routed Washington- London- Copenhagen- Stockholm- Helsinki- Moscow, used for the transmission of messages and one full-time duplex radiotelegraph circuit, routed Washington- Tangier- Moscow used for service communications and for coordination of operations between the two terminal points. Note, this was not a telephone voice link.*TIS

In 1979, Comet Howard-Koomen-Michels (SOLWIND I) collided with the Sun, the first recorded comet to collide with Sun and the first discovered by a spacecraft. The coronographs taken on 30 and 31 Aug 1979 from the satellite P78-1 used to monitor solar corona activity were not inspected until Sep 1981, by Russ Howard. The recording instruments were designed and operated by Martin Koomen and Don Michels. The remarkable series of images showed the comet heading around the Sun. Its perihelion distance was too small, and the head did not reappear from behind the Sun, presumably disintegrated by the heat of the sun. The decapitated comet's tail continued, becoming fan-like, brightening the corona, until dissipated and blown away from the Sun*TIS

1804 Ernst Grebe is remembered only for a thoughtful paper appeared in 1847  concerning some interesting properties of the triangle: If on each side of a given (arbitrary) triangle ABC one describes a square ( exterior to ABC ), then the extended outside sides of the squares, thus obtained, form a similar triangle A'B'C'. The center of similarity of both triangles is the meeting point of the straight lines AA', BB', CC'. In German this point was first called _Grebe'schen Punkt_ [Grebe's point], a TERM which seems to have been first referred to by E. Hain as early as 1875, in his paper "Ueber den Grebe'schen Punkt" [ _Archiv der Mathematik und Physik_ (= Grunert's _Archive_) volume LVIII (1876), pp. 84-89 ] *Julio Gonzalez Cabillon , Posting to the Historia Matematica discussion group

1819 Joseph Alfred Serret (30 Aug 1819 in Paris, France - 2 March 1885 in Versailles, France) He was a French mathematician best remembered for the Serret-Frenet formulas for a space-curve. In 1860 Serret succeeded Poinsot in the Académie des Sciences. In 1871 he retired to Versailles as his health began to deteriorate.
Serret also worked in number theory, calculus and mechanics. He edited the works of Lagrange which were published in 14 volumes between 1867 and 1892. He also edited the 5th edition of Monge in 1850.*SAU
1856 Carl David Tolmé Runge worked on a procedure for the numerical solution of algebraic equations and later studied the wavelengths of the spectral lines of elements. *SAU In numerical analysis, the Runge–Kutta methods that are named for him are an important family of implicit and explicit iterative methods for the approximation of solutions of ordinary differential equations. These techniques were developed around 1900 Runge and M.W. Kutta.*Wik When your regular walking partners include Felix Klein, David Hilbert, and Hermann Minkowski, you can't count on easily impressing them with your mental math skills, but it seems that Runge did so frequently. Once on their regular walks Klein brought up some departmental event that required them to know what date Easter would occur the next year. The group immediately turned to the idea of where they might acquire a calendar for the following year along the walk; all that is, except Runge who fell silent for a few yards, and then announced the date.

1871 Sir Ernest Rutherford (30 Aug 1871; 19 Oct 1937). (baron) New Zealand-born British physicist who laid the groundwork for the development of nuclear physics. He worked under Sir J. J. Thomson at Cambridge University (1895-98). Then he collaborated with Frederick Soddy in studying radioactivity. In 1899 he discovered alpha particles and beta particles, followed by the discovery of gamma radiation the following year. In 1905, with Soddy, he announced that radioactive decay involves a series of transformations. In 1907, with Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, he devised the alpha-particle scattering experiment that led in 1911 to the discovery of the atomic nucleus. In 1919 he achieved the artificial splitting of light atoms. In 1908 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. *TIS A story is told by A.. V. Hill that Rutherford had told him once, "I've just been reading some of my early papers, and when I had read them for a bit I said to myself, "Ernest my boy, you used to be a darn clever fellow.'" *Walter Gratzer, Eurekas and Euphorias, pg 27
 [I love this quote from a few years before his death. "The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine."]

1906 Olga Taussky-Todd ,  She received her Ph.D. in 1930 under Philip Furtwangler at Vienna in number theory. Her first job involved editing Hilbert’s papers on number theory.*VFR

1907 John Mauchly (30 Aug 1907; 8 Jan 1980) American physicist and engineer, who with John P. Eckert invented (1946) the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the first general-purpose electronic computer. Mauchly initially conceived of the computer's architecture, and Eckert possessed the engineering skills to bring the idea to life. ENIAC was developed (1946) for the US Army Ordnance Department as what was probably the first general-purpose electronic computer. It was a vast machine, consuming 100 kW of electric power and containing 18,000 electronic valves. Their successful UNIVAC computer (1951) was the first commercial computer, and introduced magnetic tape for programming.*TIS

1907 Gordon Brown founded the Servomechanisms Laboratory at MIT, which pioneered the development of feedback-control theory, computer technology, and automatic control of machine tools and had many famous graduate students who went on to become major contributors in the fields of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. *CHM

1912 E.M. Purcell (30 Aug 1912; 7 Mar 1997) American physicist who shared, with Felix Bloch of the United States, the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1952 for his independent discovery (1946) of nuclear magnetic resonance in liquids and in solids. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has become widely used to study the molecular structure of pure materials and the composition of mixtures. The method detects and measures the magnetic fields of atomic nuclei. *TIS

1621 Baha' ad-Din al-Amili (27 Feb 1547 in Baalbek, now in Lebanon - 30 Aug 1621 in Isfahan, Iran) was a Lebanese-born mathematician who wrote influential works on arithmetic, astronomy and grammar. Perhaps his most famous mathematical work was Quintessence of Calculation which was a treatise in ten sections, strongly influenced by The Key to Arithmetic (1427) by Jamshid al-Kashi. *SAU

1844 Francis Baily (28 Apr 1774, 30 Aug 1844)English astronomer who detected the phenomenon called "Baily's beads" during an annular eclipse of the Sun on 15 May 1836. His vivid description aroused new interest in the study of eclipses. After retiring in 1825 from a successful business career, Baily turned to science. Baily revised several star catalogs, repeated Henry Cavendish's experiments to determine the density of the Earth, and measured its elliptical shape. His protests regarding the British Nautical Almanac, then notorious for its errors, were instrumental in bringing about its reform.*TIS  A really nice discussion of the many contributions of Baily is in this post at The Renaissance Mathematicus, To whet your appetite, " Baily’s Flamsteed memoir had a major influence on the history and the historiography of science; he had succeeded in pricking Newton’s hagiographic bubble. St Isaac had been taken down a peg or two. Baily’s work marks a turning point in our understanding of Newton moving him along the road from plastic saint to real, if somewhat unpleasant, human being. Sometimes editing star catalogues can lead to unexpected results for the history of science."

1928 Wilhelm Wien (13 Jan 1864, 30 Aug 1928)German physicist who received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1911 for his displacement law concerning the radiation emitted by the perfectly efficient blackbody (a surface that absorbs all radiant energy falling on it). While studying streams of ionized gas Wien, in 1898, identified a positive particle equal in mass to the hydrogen atom. Wien, with this work, laid the foundation of mass spectroscopy. J J Thomson refined Wien's apparatus and conducted further experiments in 1913 then, after work by E Rutherford in 1919, Wien's particle was accepted and named the proton. Wien also made important contributions to the study of cathode rays, X-rays and canal rays.*TIS [I find it curiously interesting that all three of the great physicists mentioned here either were born or died this day]

1940 Sir J(oseph) J(ohn) Thomson (born 18 Dec 1856, 30 Aug 1940 )was an English physicist who helped revolutionize the knowledge of atomic structure by his discovery of the electron (1897). He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1906 and was knighted in 1908. Thomson experimented with currents of electricity inside empty glass tubes, investigating a long-standing puzzle known as "cathode rays." His experiments prompted him to make a bold proposal: these mysterious rays are streams of particles much smaller than atoms. He called these particles "corpuscles," and suggested that they might make up all of the matter in atoms. It was startling to imagine a particles inside the atom at a time when most people thought that the atom was indivisible, the most fundamental unit of matter.*TIS

1995 Fischer Sheffey Black (January 11, 1938, August 30, 1995) was an American economist, best known as one of the authors of the famous Black–Scholes equation.In 1973, Black, along with Myron Scholes, published the paper 'The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities' in 'The Journal of Political Economy'. This was his most famous work and included the Black–Scholes equation. The Nobel Prize is not given posthumously, so it was not awarded to Black in 1997 when his co-author Myron Scholes received the honor for their landmark work on option pricing along with Robert C. Merton, another pioneer in the development of valuation of stock options. In the announcement of the award that year, the Nobel committee prominently mentioned Black's key role.*Wik

2004 Fred Lawrence Whipple (5 Nov 1906, 30 Aug 2004) was an American astronomer who proposed the "dirty snowball" model for comet nuclei. In the 1930s, using a new, two-station method of photography, he determined meteor trajectories and found that nearly all visible meteors are made up of fragile material from comets, and that none come from beyond the solar system. Whipple suggested (1950) that comets have icy cores inside thin insulating layers of dirt, and that jets of material ejected as a result of solar heating were the cause of orbital changes. This model was confirmed in 1986 when spacecraft flew past comet Halley. Whipple’s work on tracking artificial satellites led to improved knowledge of the shape of the earth and greatly improved positions on earth. *TIS

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