Tuesday, 1 November 2011

On This Day in Math - Nov 1

If you walk along the street you will encounter a number of scientific problems. Of these, about 80 per cent are insoluble, while 19½ per cent are trivial. There is then perhaps half a per cent where skill, persistence, courage, creativity and originality can make a difference. It is always the task of the academic to swim in that half a per cent, asking the questions through which some progress can be made.
~Sir Hermann Bondi

The 305th day of the year; 305 is the smallest odd composite which is the average of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers. *Number Gossip
305 has two representations as a sum of two squares: 305 = 42 + 172 = 72 + 162


In 1772, Antoine Lavoisier reported in a note to the Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences that in the previous week he had discovered that sulphur and phosphorus when burned increased in weight because they absorbed "air," while the metallic lead formed when litharge was heated with charcoal weighed less than the original litharge because it had lost "air." The exact nature of the airs concerned in the processes he could not yet explain, and he proceeded to study the question extensively. Lavoisier's investigation of the role of air in combustion would change the way chemists viewed combustion. *TIS

1809 Louis Poinsot (1777–1859) named assistant professor of analysis and mechanics at the Ecole Polytechnique. In 1794 he was admitted to the first class at the university despite insufficient knowledge of algebra. *VFR

1818 Whewell wrote John Herschel that he “would not be surprised if in a short time we were only to read a few propositions of Newton, as a matter of curiosity.” See H. W. Becher, “William Whewell and Cambridge mathematics,” *HSPS, 11(1980), p. 15.

1844 Gauss in a letter to Schumacher, “I am rather surprised that you expect clarity from a professional philosopher. Muddled con¬cepts and definitions are nowhere more at home than among philosophers who are not math¬ematicians ... Just look aroung at today’s philosophers, Schelling, Hegel, Nees von Esenbeck and Co. Don’t their definitions make your hair stand on end? Or, in classical philosophy, read the kinds of things which “stars” like Plato and others (I except Aristotle) gave as explanations. Even Kant is often not much better: his distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions is, I believe, one of those which either turns on a triviality or is false.” [The Mathematical Intelligencer, 1(1978), p. 18]*VFR

1884 The International Meridian Conference referenced mean solar time to the 24 standard meridians each of 15 degrees longitude. The international date line was then established to generally follow the 180th meridian in the Pacific Ocean. Previously Lewis Carroll had badgered officials with the question: Leave London at noon and travel with the sun directly overhead, returning the next day. When does the new day begin? *VFR Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was (more or less) universally adopted at this conference.

1951 Cuba commemorated the 30th anniversary of the winning of the World Chess title by Jose Raul Capablanca by issuing a stamp picturing the resignation play of Dr. Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941). [Scott #C44]. *VFR (The match began March 15, 1921, and ended (prematurely) on April 21, when Lasker retired from the match. At this point he was down 0-4, with 10 draws. Lasker had been champion since 1894. Capablanca retained the title until 1927, when he lost to Alexander Alekhine.)

1535 Giambattista della Porta was an Italian scholar who worked on cryptography and also on optics. He claimed to be the inventor of the telescope although he does not appear to have constructed one before Galileo.*SAU

1828 Balfour Stewart (1 Nov 1828; 19 Dec 1887) Scottish meteorologist and geophysicist noted for his studies of terrestrial magnetism and radiant heat. His researches on radiant heat contributed to foundation of spectrum analysis. He was the first to discover that bodies radiate and absorb energy of the same wavelength. In meteorology, he pioneered in ionospheric science, making a special study of terrestrial magnetism. He proposed (1882) that the daily variation in the Earth's magnetic field could be due to air currents in the upper atmosphere, which act as conductors and generate electrical currents as they pass through the Earth's magnetic field. He also investigated sunspots. In 1887, he died, age 59, soon after suffering a stroke while crossing to spend Christmas at his estate in Ireland. *TIS

1864 Ludwig Schlesinger was a mathematician, born in what is now Slovakia, who worked on differential equations *SAU

1880 Alfred L. Wegener (1 Nov 1880; Nov 1930) Alfred Lothar Wegener was a German meteorologist and geophysicist who first gave a well-developed hypothesis of continental drift. He suggested (1912) that about 250 million yrs ago all the present-day continents came from a single primitive land mass, the supercontinent Pangaea, which eventually broke up and gradually drifted apart. (A similar idea was proposed earlier by F.B. Taylor in 1910.) Others saw the fit of coastlines of South America and Africa, but Wegener added more geologic and paleontologic evidence that these two continents were once joined. From 1906, interested in paleoclimatology, he went on several expeditions to Greenland to study polar air circulation. He died during his fourth expedition. *TIS (The hypothesis that continents 'drift' was first put forward by Abraham Ortelius in 1596 * Wik)

1913 Andrzej Mostowski was a Polish mathematician who worked on logic and the foundations of mathematics.*SAU

1919 Sir Hermann Bondi (1 Nov 1919; 10 Sep 2005) Austrian-born British mathematician and cosmologist who, with Fred Hoyle and Thomas Gold, formulated the steady-state theory of the universe (1948). Their theory addressed a crucial problem: "How do the stars continually recede without disappearing altogether?" Their explanation was that the universe is ever-expanding, without a beginning and without an end. Further, they said, since the universe must be expanding, new matter must be continually created in order to keep the density constant, by the interchange of matter and energy. The theory was eclipsed in 1965, when Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered a radiation background in microwaves giving convincing support to the "big bang" theory of creation now accepted.*TIS

1920 Claude Ambrose Rogers FRS (1 November 1920 – 5 December 2005) was an English mathematician who worked on analysis and geometry, and in particular found the Rogers bound for dense packings of spheres and a counterexample to the Busemann–Petty problem. *Wik

1950 Robert B. Laughlin (1 Nov 1950, ) American physicist who (with Daniel C. Tsui and Horst Störmer) received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1998 for research on the fractional quantum Hall effect. In a current-carrying conductor, the classic Hall effect is the voltage produced at right angles to a magnetic field, as first discovered in 1879. A century later the German physicist Klaus von Klitzing discovered that in a powerful magnetic field at extremely low temperatures the Hall resistance of a semiconductor is quantized in integral "steps". Using even stronger magnetic fields and lower temperatures, Störmer and Tsui discovered fractional steps, explained by Laughlin's theory that the electrons can form a new type of quantum fluid with quasiparticles carrying fractions of an electron's charge. *TIS

1884 Thomas MacRobert studied at Glasgow and Cambridge universities. He returned to Glasgow to a series of posts culminating in the professorship. He worked on Complex Analysis. He became President of the EMS in 1921 and was a founder member of the Glasgow Mathematical Association. *SAU

1943 Alexander George McAdie (4 Aug 1863, 1 Nov 1943) American meteorologist who was a pioneer in employing kites in the exploration of high altitude air conditions. As a college graduate, McAdie in Jan 1882 joined the Army Signal Service, which preceded the civilian U.S. Weather Bureau. He invented and patented devices to protect fruit from frost. He examined the influence of smoke pollution on the atmosphere, McAdie studied the relation between atmospheric electricity and auroral phenomena, and wrote about lightning as a hazard both in the air and on the ground. He believed that the units used in meteorology should be standardized by adoption of the metric system. McAdie was a founder of the Seismological Society of America. Mt. McAdie (13,799 ft.) in the Sierra Nevada was named for him.*TIS

1971 Leonard Jimmie Savage (20 November 1917 – 1 November 1971) was an American mathematician and statistician. Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman said Savage was "one of the few people I have met whom I would unhesitatingly call a genius." His most noted work was the 1954 book Foundations of Statistics, in which he put forward a theory of subjective and personal probability and statistics which forms one of the strands underlying Bayesian statistics and has applications to game theory.
During World War II, Savage served as chief "statistical" assistant to John von Neumann, the mathematician credited with building the first electronic computer.
One of Savage's indirect contributions was his discovery of the work of Louis Bachelier on stochastic models for asset prices and the mathematical theory of option pricing. Savage brought the work of Bachelier to the attention of Paul Samuelson. It was from Samuelson's subsequent writing that "random walk" (and subsequently Brownian motion) became fundamental to mathematical finance.
In 1951 he introduced the minimax regret criterion used in decision theory.
The Hewitt–Savage zero-one law is (in part) named after him, as is the Friedman–Savage utility function. *Wik

*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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