Monday 20 June 2011

On This Day in Math - June 20

the enormous success of mathematics in the natural
sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and ...
there is no natural explanation for it.
—Eugene Wigner


1686 Halley Writes to Newton that Hooke has protested his "discovery" of the inverse square law should be noted in Principia. Newton will respond On July 14, 1686, with a peace offering; "And now having sincerely told you the case between Mr Hooke and me, I hope I shall be free for the future from the prejudice of his letters. I have considered how best to compose the present dispute, and I think it may be done by the inclosed scholium to the fourth proposition." This scholium was "The inverse law of gravity holds in all the celestial motions, as was discovered also independently by my countrymen Wren, Hooke and Halley."

1688 Newton, in a letter to Edmund Halley, again expresses his exasperation with carping critics. [Thanks to Howard Eves]*VFR

1788; Washington Writes to Nicholas Pike to Thank him for a copy of his "A New and Complete System of Arithmetic" , published in 1786 by Nicholas Pike, a Newburyport schoolmaster. In his letter, sent June 20, 1788, from Mount Vernon, Washington writes: "The handsome manner in which that Work is printed and the elegant manner in which it is bound, are pleasing proofs of the progress which the Arts are making in this Country. Washington's letter to Pike also commended him on his accomplishments and the importance of his work.
Pike had written to  Washington on March 25,1786 requesting permission to dedciate the book to Washington. On June 20 of 1786, Washington had replied that, "I must therefore beg leave to decline the honour which you would do me, as I have before done in two or three cases of a similar kind."
1808 Poisson submitted his first paper on the stability of the planetary system, one day before his twenty-seventh birthday. *VFR
1831 János Bolyai's pioneering work, The Absolutely True Science of Space, was published in 1832. This important work was published as an appendix to the first volume of his father,Farkas Bolyai's Tentamen , but its off-print had already been ready the previous year, in April 1831. The latter was the version which, together with a letter, was sent to Gauss by Farkas Bolyai on the 20th of June 1831. Gauss got the letter but János's work was lost on the way. On the 16th of January 1832 Farkas sent the Appendix to his friend again with another letter in which he wrote: ``My son appreciates Your critique more than that of whole Europe and it is the only thing he is waiting for''.
After twenty-three years of silence, Gauss replied to his ``old, unforgettable friend'' on the 6th of March 1832. One of his well-known sentences was: ``if I praised your son's work I would praise myself''. The letter deeply afflicted and upset János Bolyai, although it reflects appreciation, too: ``... I am very glad that it is my old friend's son who so splendidly preceded me'' *Komal Journal

1877 Georg Cantor, in a letter to Dedekind, announced a proof that the points inside a square are in one-to-one correspondence with those on a line segment. Three years earlier, Cantor had intimated that this was clearly impossible. *VFR

1908 Count Zeppelin made his first flight in his fourth new airship at Friedrichshafen, Germany. The Luftschiff LZ4 had its first flight 20 Jun 1908. Its first extended flight (12 hours) was taken to Switzerland 1 Jul 1908. At the beginning of August, it embarked on an extended flight which had taken it among other places to Basel, Straussberg, and many of the major cities of southern Germany. While moored at Echterdingen on 5 Aug 1908, it was torn from the mast by high winds and destroyed. As interest in the Zeppelins ran high in German, the incident was felt as a national disaster. Spontaneous donations resulted in approximately 5.5 million Marks and made it possible for Zeppelin to continue his work. *TIS

1775 Jacques Frédéric Français In September 1813 Français published a work in which he gave a geometric representation of complex numbers with interesting applications. This was based on Argand's paper which had been sent, without disclosing the name of the author, by Legendre to François Français. Although Wessel had published an account of the geometric representation of complex numbers in 1799, and then Argand had done so again in 1806, the idea was still little known among mathematicians. This changed after Français' paper since a vigorous discussion between Français, Argand and Servois took place in Gergonne's Journal. In this argument Français and Argand believed in the validity of the geometric representation, while Servois argued that complex numbers must be handled using pure algebra. *SAU

1838 Theodor Reye worked in Geometry and Projective Geometry.*SAU

1873 Alfred Loewy born. He worked in group theory and differential equations. *VFR

1800 Abraham Kästner was a German mathematician who compiled encyclopaedias and wrote text-books. He taught Gauss. *SAU

1807 Ferdinand Berthoud Outstanding Swiss horologist and author of extensive treatises on timekeeping who became involved in the attempt to solve the problem of determining longitude at sea. His major achievement was his further development of an accurate and practical marine clock, or chronometer. (Such an instrument had previously been constructed in expensive and delicate prototypes by Pierre Leroy of France and John Harrison of England.) He made his first chronometer in 1754, which was sent for trial in 1761. Berthoud's improvements to the chronometer have been largely retained in present-day designs. *TIS
1966 Georges (Henri) Lemaître was a Belgian astronomer and cosmologist, born in Charleroi, Belgium. He was also a civil engineer, army officer, and ordained priest. He did research on cosmic rays and the three-body problem. Lemaître formulated (1927) the modern big-bang theory. He reasoned that if the universe was expanding now, then the further you go in the past, the universe’s contents must have been closer together. He envisioned that at some point in the distant past, all the matter in the universe was in an exceedingly dense state, crushed into a single object he called the "primeval super-atom" which exploded, with all its constituent parts rushing away. This theory was later developed by Gamow and others.*TIS
2003 I. Bernard Cohen (1 March 1914 – 20 June 2003) was the Victor S. Thomas Professor of the history of science at Harvard University and the author of many books on the history of science and, in particular, Isaac Newton.
Cohen was the first American to receive a Ph.D. in history of science, was a Harvard undergraduate ('37) and then a Ph.D. student and protégé of George Sarton who was the founder of Isis and the History of Science Society. Cohen taught at Harvard from 1942 until his death, and his tenure was marked by the development of Harvard's program in the history of science. *Wik

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

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