Monday, 20 February 2012

On This Day in Math - Feb 20

A mathematician will recognise Cauchy, Gauss, Jacobi or Helmholtz after reading a few pages, just as musicians recognise, from the first few bars, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert.
~Ludwig Boltzmann

The 51st day of the year; 51 is the number of different paths from (0,0) to (6,0) made up of segments connecting lattice points that can only have slopes of 1, 0, or -1 but so that they never go below the x-axis. These are called Motzkin Numbers.

1729 A Letter from Gabriel Cramer, Prof. Math. Genev. to James Jurin, M. D. and F. R. S. to be read at the Royal Society, gives an “account of an Aurora Borealis Attended with Unusual Appearances” . The borealis occurred on Feb 15, and the letter was sent on Feb 20. *Transactions of RSI

In 1835, Charles Darwin, on his H.M.S. Beagle voyage reached Chile, and experienced a very strong earthquake and shortly afterward saw evidence of several feet of uplift in the region. He repeated measurement a few days later, and found the land had risen several feet. He had proved that geological changes occur even in our own time. Lyell's principles were based on the concept of a steady-state, nondirectional earth whereby uplift, subsidence, erosion, and deposition were all balanced. Thereby, Darwin coupled in his mind this dramatic evidence of elevation with accompanying subsidence and deposition. Thus he hypothesized that coral reefs of the Pacific developed on the margins of subsiding land masses, in the three stages of fringing reef, barrier reef, and atoll.*TIS

1947 Computer pioneer Alan Turing suggests testing artificial intelligence with the game of chess in a lecture to the London Mathematical Society. Computers, he argued, must like humans be given training before their IQ is tested. A human mathematician has always undergone an extensive training. This training may be regarded as not unlike putting instruction tables into a machine, he said. One must therefore not expect a machine to do a very great deal of building up of instruction tables on its own.*CHM

1966 The only verified example of a family producing five single children with coincidental birthdays is that of Catherine (1952), Coral (1953), Charles (1956), Claudia (1961), and Cecelia (1966), born to Ralph and Carolyn Cummins of Clintwood, VA. What is the probability of this happening? *VFR (RALPH? He should have changed his name.)

1979 The German Democratic Republic issued a stamp commemorating the centenary of Einstein’s birth. It shows the Einstein tower in Potsdam and his famous formula E = mc. [Scott #1990]*VFR

In 1996, a bright "new" star was discovered in Sagittarius by Japanese amateur astronomer Yukio Sakurai. It was found not to be a usual nova, but instead was a star going through a dramatic evolutionary state, re-igniting its nuclear furnace for one final blast of energy called the "final helium flash." It was only the second to be identified in the twentieth century. A star like the Sun ends its active life as a white dwarf star gradually cooling down into visual oblivion. Sakurai's Object had a mass a few times that of the Sun. Its collapse after fusing most of its hydrogen fuel to helium raised its temperature so much higher it began nuclear fusion of its helium remains. This was confirmed using its light spectrum to identify the elements present.*TIS

1844 Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann (February 20, 1844 – September 5, 1906) was an Austrian physicist famous for his founding contributions in the fields of statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics. He was one of the most important advocates for atomic theory at a time when that scientific model was still highly controversial. *Wik Trivia: Boltzmann's famous equation S = K log W (where S = entropy, K = Boltzmann's constant, and W = probability of a particular state) was inscribed as an epitaph on Boltzmann's tombstone. *Wik After obtaining his doctorate, he became an assistant to his teacher Josef Stefan. Boltzmann's fame is based on his invention of statistical mechanics, independently of Willard Gibbs. Their theories connected the properties and behaviour of atoms and molecules with the large scale properties and behaviour of the substances of which they were the building blocks. He also worked out a kinetic theory of gases, and the Stefan-Boltzmann law concerning a relationship between the temperature of a body and the radiation it emits. His firm belief and defense of atomism (that all matter is made of atoms) against hostile opposition to this new idea, may have contributed to his suicide in 1906. *TIS

1860 Mathias Lerch​ (20 February 1860, Milínov - 3 August 1922, Schüttenhofen) was an eminent Czech mathematician who published about 250 papers, largely on mathematical analysis and number theory. He studied in Prague and Berlin, and held teaching positions at the Czech Technical Institute in Prague, the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, the Czech Technical Institute in Brno, and Masaryk University in Brno; he was the first mathematics professor at Masaryk University when it was founded in 1920. In 1900, he was awarded the Grand Prize of the French Academy of Sciences for his number-theoretic work. The Lerch zeta-function is named after him as is the Appell–Lerch sum.*Wik

1926 Kenneth Harry Olsen (February 20, 1926 – February 6, 2011) was an American engineer who co-founded Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1957 with colleague Harlan Anderson *Wik

1929 Madan Lal Puri ( Sialkot in Pakistan , 20 February 1929 ) is a statistical Indian important in the context of nonparametric statistics and also occupied the fuzzy sets .*Wik

1931 John Willard Milnor (20 Feb 1931, )American mathematician who was awarded the Fields Medal in 1962 for his his proof that a 7-dimensional sphere can have 28 different differential structures. This work opened up the new field of differential topology. Milnor's theorem shows that the total curvature of a knot is at least 4. In the 1950's, Milnor did a substantial amount of work on algebraic topology in which he constructed the classifying space of a topological group and gave a geometric realisation of a semi-simplicial complex. Since the 1970's his interest is in dynamics, especially holomorphic dynamics. Milnor served the American Mathematical Society as vice president (1975-76) and was awarded the Wolf Prize in 1989. *TIS

1762 Tobias Meyer (17 Feb 1723; 20 Feb 1762 at age 38) German astronomer who developed lunar tables that greatly assisted navigators in determining longitude at sea. Mayer also discovered the libration (or apparent wobbling) of the Moon. Mayer began calculating lunar and solar tables in 1753 and in 1755 he sent them to the British government. These tables were good enough to determine longitude at sea with an accuracy of half a degree. Mayer's method of determining longitude by lunar distances and a formula for correcting errors in longitude due to atmospheric refraction were published in 1770 after his death. The Board of Longitude sent Mayer's widow a payment of 3000 pounds as an award for the tables. *TIS Leonhard Euler described him as 'undoubtedly the greatest astronomer in Europe'. More notes on Meyer can be found on this blog at the Board of Longitude Project from the Royal Museums at Greenwich. Another nice blog by Thony Christie, The Renaissance Mathematicus tells of Meyer's measurement of the Moon's distance, and the importance of that measurement.

1778 Laura Maria Catarina Bassi (31 Oct 1711 in Bologna, Papal States, 20 Feb 1778 in Bologna, Papal States) was an Italian physicist and one of the earliest women to gain a position in an Italian university. *SAU Thony Christie called her the first ever femal physics professor. An interesting blog about her is at The Georgian Gentleman. In part he writes, "Never heard of her? Shame on us all, because her achievements really were rather remarkable."

1928 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

1955 Arthur Lee Dixon FRS (27 November 1867 — 20 February 1955) was a British mathematician and holder of the Waynflete Professorship of Pure Mathematics at the University of Oxford. The younger brother of Alfred Cardew Dixon, he was educated at Kingswood School and Worcester College, Oxford, becoming a Tutorial Fellow at Merton College in 1898 and the Waynflete Professor in 1922. Dixon was the last mathematical professor at Oxford to hold a life tenure, and although he was not particularly noted for his mathematical innovations he did publish many papers on analytic number theory and the application of algebra to geometry, elliptic functions and hyperelliptic functions. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1912 and serving as President of the London Mathematical Society from 1924 to 1926, *Wik

1972 Maria Goeppert-Mayer (28 Jun 1906, 20 Feb 1972 at age 65) German physicist who shared one-half of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physics with J. Hans D. Jensen of West Germany for their proposal of the shell nuclear model. (The other half of the prize was awarded to Eugene P. Wigner of the United States for unrelated work.) In 1939 she worked at Columbia University on the separation of uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb project. In 1949, she devised the shell nuclear model, which explained the detailed properties of atomic nuclei in terms of a structure of shells occupied by the protons and neutrons. This explained the great stability and abundance of nuclei that have a particular number of neutrons (such as 50, 82, or 126) and the same special number of protons. *TIS

2005 Edward Maitland Wright (13 Feb 1906 in Farnley, near Leeds, England - 2 Feb 2005 in Reading, England) was initially self-taught in Mathematics but was able to go and study at Oxford. He spent a year at Göttingen and returned to Oxford. He was appointed to the Char at Aberdeen where he stayed for the rest of his career, eventually becoming Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University. He is best known for the standard work on Number Theory he wrote with G H Hardy. One of Wright's first papers, published in 1930, was on Bernstein polynomials. Also among his early work was a series of three papers titled Asymptotic partition formulae. The third in the series Asymptotic partition formulae, III. Partitions into kth powers was published by Acta Mathematica in 1934. *SAU

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