Thursday, 17 November 2011

On This Day in Math - Nov 17

The unreasonable efficiency of mathematics in science is a gift we neither understand nor deserve.

~Eugene Paul Wigner

1717 While making his rounds a gendarme found an infant on the steps of the Church of Saint Jean-le-Rond in Paris. The child was christened Jean-le-Rond. Later, for unknown reasons, he added the surname d’Alembert. Jean le Rond D'Alembert (1717 1783) was abandoned by his mother on the steps of Saint Jean le Rond, which was the baptistery of Notre-Dame. Foster parents were found and he was christened with the name of the saint. When he became famous, his mother attempted to reclaim him, but he rejected her. His father, we now know, was an artillery officer, Louis-Camus Destouches. His natural father did not want his paternity known, but paid for his education in secret. D'Alembert was a pioneer in the study of differential equations and their use of in physics. He studied the equilibrium and motion of fluids.

In 1797, the first patent in the U.S. for a clock was issued to Eli Terry of East Windsor, Conn. for an equation clock. The clock had two minute hands, one of which showed the mean or true time, while the other "together with the striking part and hour hand showed the apparent time, as divided by the sun according to the table of variation of the sun and clock for each day of the year." He began making clocks in 1793, in Plymouth, Conn. Terry introduced wooden geared clocks using the ideas of Eli Whitney's new armory practice to produce interchangeable gears (1802) and mass production of very inexpensive household clocks. Terry developed ways to produce wooden clock works by machine. *TIS

1921 Fisher reads his famous Royal Society paper, On the Mathematical Foundations of Theoretical Statistics. Statistical Historian, Steven Stigler writes that, “in 1921 Fisher presented a major pathbreaking memoir to the Royal Society of London, a memoir that more than any other single work gave the framework and direction to twentieth century statistical theory.”
The paper begins with a list of definitions that, while almost unheard of before that paper, have become standard in even elementary statistics courses. Terms like estimation, likelihood, optimum, and not defined, but actually used in the descriptions of other terms was Fisher’s first public use of “parameter”. *Stigler, Fisher in 1921
At right the Fisher window from  from the Greatroom at Caius College., Cambridge

1930 Kurt Godel’s “On formally undecidable propositions of Principia Mathematica and related systems ” was received for publication. It contained the amazing result that there are true but unprovable statements in arithmetic.

In 1970, a U.S. patent was issued for the computer mouse - an "X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System" (No. 3541541). The inventor was Doug Engelbart. In the lab, he and his colleagues had called it a "mouse," after its tail-like cable. The first mouse was a simple hollowed-out wooden block, with a single push button on top. Engelbart had designed this as a tool to select text, move it around, and otherwise manipulate it. It was a key element of his larger project - the NLS (oN Line System), a computer he and some colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute had built. The NLS also allowed two or more users to work on the same document from different workstations.*TIS

2011  French law allows the first taste of Beaujolais Nouveau on this date each year. In 1985 the law was changed to the third Thursday in November. Also permission was given to ship wine ahead of time to bonded warehouses outside of France. Thus in the US we can drink the Nouveau on the same day as the French. Get out now and buy several bottles for the holidays. *VFR

1597 Henry Gellibrand was an English clergyman who worked on magnetic declination and who made mathematical contributions to navigation.*SAU He discovered that magnetic declination – the angle of dip of a compass needle – is not constant but changes over time. He announced this in 1635, relying on previous observations by others, which had not yet been correctly interpreted.
He also devised a method for measuring longitude, based on eclipses. The mathematical tables of Henry Briggs, consisting of logarithms of trigonometric functions, were published by Gellibrand in 1633 as Trigonometria Britannica.
He was Professor at Gresham College, succeeding Edward Gunter in 1626. He was buried in St Peter Le Poer. (London, demolished in 1907) *Wik

1790 August Möbius (17 Nov 1790; 26 Sep 1868)August Ferdinand Möbius was a German astronomer, mathematician and author. He is best known for his work in analytic geometry and in topology, especially remembered as one of the discoverers of the Möbius strip, which he had discovered in 1858. A Möbius strip is a two-dimensional surface with only one side. It can be constructed in three dimensions as follows. Take a rectangular strip of paper and join the two ends of the strip together so that it has a 180 degree twist. It is now possible to start at a point A on the surface and trace out a path that passes through the point which is apparently on the other side of the surface from A. Although his most famous work is in mathematics, Möbius did publish important work on astronomy.*TIS

1865 John Stanley Plaskett (17 Nov 1865; 17 Oct 1941) Canadian astronomer known for his expert design of instruments and his extensive spectroscopic observations. He designed an exceptionally efficient spectrograph for the 15-inch refractor and measured radial velocities and found orbits of spectroscopic binary stars. He designed and supervised construction of the 72-inch reflector built for the new Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria and was appointed its first director in 1917. There he extended the work on radial velocities and spectroscopic binaries and studied spectra of O and B-type stars. In the 1930s he published the first detailed analysis of the rotation of the Milky Way, demonstrating that the sun is two-thirds out from the center of our galaxy about which it revolves once in 220 million years. *TIS

1902 Eugene Paul Wigner (17 Nov 1902; 1 Jan 1995) Hungarian-born American physicist who was the joint winner of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physics (with Maria Goeppert Mayer and Johannes Hans Jensen) for his insight into quantum mechanics, for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles. He made many contributions to nuclear physics and played a prominent role in the development of the atomic bomb and nuclear energy. *TIS I love this story about Wigner as a child, "When he was ten years old ... he was told that he had tuberculosis. The cure was to be found in sending him to a sanatorium in Breitenstein in Austria and he spent six weeks there before being told that the diagnosis had been wrong and that he had never had tuberculosis. However, one advantage of his six weeks was that he began to think about mathematical problems "I had to lie on a deck chair for days on end, and I worked terribly hard on constructing a triangle if the three altitudes are given." *SAU

1917 Ruth Aaronson Bari (November 17, 1917 – August 25, 2005) was an American mathematician known for her work in graph theory and homomorphisms. The daughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants to the U.S., she was a professor at George Washington University beginning in 1966. She was the mother of environmental activist Judi Bari, science reporter Gina Kolata and art historian Martha Bari.*Wik


1704 Valentin Heins (May 15th 1637 in Hamburg - November 17 1704 ) was a German arithmetician (Reckoner)
The son of a linen weaver, the source of his education is unknown. From 1651 Heins was licensed to provide instruction in commercial computing (accounting, bookkeeping, arithmetic, etc). In the years 1658 and 1659 Heins studied theology for several semesters at the universities of Jena and Leipzig , but then returned to Hamburg. There he married and had a vicariate (financial endoument) in 1661 at the Cathedral. Whether Heins performed for a service is not known.
In 1670 he became writing and arithmetic master of the German Church School St. Michaelis . He was also from 1663-1672 accountant of the Guinean-African Company.
He wrote several textbooks, which made him known beyond national boundaries. They were reprinted up to the beginning of the 19th Century. Particularly popular was his tyrocinium mercatorio arithmeticum, a commercial arithmetic and accounting book.
Heins founded in 1690, with the calculation of the parish school master of St. Jacobi Henry Meissner , the art-loving Societät billing. This later became the Mathematical Society of Hamburg, the worlds oldest existing mathematical society. *Wik

1929 Herman Hollerith (29 Feb 1860, 17 Nov 1929) American inventor of a tabulating machine that was an important precursor of the electronic computer. For the 1890 U.S. census, he invented several punched-card machines to automate the sorting of data. The machine which read the cards used a pin going through a hole in the card to make an electrical connection with mercury placed beneath. The resulting electrical current activated a mechanical counter. It saved the United States 5 million dollars for the 1890 census by completing the analysis of the data in a fraction of the time it would have taken without it and with a smaller amount of manpower than would have been necessary otherwise. In 1896, he formed the Tabulating Machine Company, a precursor of IBM. *TIS

1953 Pierre Humbert (13 June 1891 in Paris, France, 17 Nov 1953 in Paris, France) graduated from the École Polytechnique in Paris and then moved to Edinburgh to do research under Whittaker. He spent most of his career in the University of Montpellier.  He specialized in the history of the seventeenth century he wrote particularly on the French astronomers of that period.
He also made contributions to mathematics, in particular he wrote on elliptic functions, Lamé functions, and Mathieu functions. His main mathematical work from the mid 1930s onwards was in developing the symbolic calculus. He also wrote on applications of the symbolic calculus to mathematical physics.

1956 John Evershed (26 Feb 1864, 17 Nov 1956) English astronomer who discovered (1909) the Evershed effect - the horizontal motion of gases outward from the centres of sunspots. While photographing solar prominences and sunspot spectra, he noticed that many of the Fraunhofer lines in the sunspot spectra were shifted to the red. By showing that these were Doppler shifts, he proved the motion of the source gases. This discovery came to be known as the Evershed effect. He also gave his name to a spectroheliograph, the Evershed spectroscope.*TIS

1958 Yutaka Taniyama (November 12, 1927, Kisai near Tokyo – November 17, 1958, Tokyo) was a Japanese mathematician known for the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture.
Taniyama was best known for conjecturing, in modern language, automorphic properties of L-functions of elliptic curves over any number field. A partial and refined case of this conjecture for elliptic curves over rationals is called the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture or the modularity theorem whose statement he subsequently refined in collaboration with Goro Shimura. The names Taniyama, Shimura and Weil have all been attached to this conjecture, but the idea is essentially due to Taniyama.
In 1986 Ribet proved that if the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture held, then so would Fermat's last theorem, which inspired Andrew Wiles to work for a number of years in secrecy on it, and to prove enough of it to prove Fermat's Last Theorem. Due to the pioneering contribution of Wiles and the efforts of a number of mathematicians the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture was finally proven in 1999. The original Taniyama conjecture for elliptic curves over arbitrary number fields remains open, and the method of Wiles and others cannot be extended to provide its proof.*Wik

1990 Robert Hofstadter (5 Feb 1915, 17 Nov 1990) American scientist who was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1961 for his investigations in which he measured the sizes of the neutron and proton in the nuclei of atoms. He revealed the hitherto unknown structure of these particles and helped create an identifying order for subatomic particles. He also correctly predicted the existence of hte omega-meson and rho-meson. He also studied controlled nuclear fission. Hofstadter was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Stanford Linear Accelerator. He also made substantial contributions to gamma ray spectroscopy, leading to the use of radioactive tracers to locate tumors and other disorders.*TIS

2000 Louis-Eugène-Félix Néel (22 Nov 1904, 17 Nov 2000) French physicist, corecipient (with the Swedish astrophysicist Hannes Alfvén) of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1970 for his pioneering studies of the magnetic properties of solids. His contributions to solid-state physics have found numerous useful applications, particularly in the development of improved computer memory units. About 1930 he suggested that a new form of magnetic behavior might exist - called antiferromagnetism. Above a certain temperature (the Néel temperature) this behaviour stops. Néel pointed out (1947) that materials could also exist showing ferrimagnetism. Néel has also given an explanation of the weak magnetism of certain rocks, making possible the study of the past history of the Earth's magnetic field.*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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