Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was a German mathematician and physical scientist par excellence who made his invaluable contributions in several fields such as statistics, differential geometry, astronomy, number theory, electrostatics, analysis, geophysics and optics. He is also titled as ‘the Princeps mathematicorum’, meaning ‘the Prince of Mathematicians’ or ‘the foremost of mathematicians’ and ‘greatest mathematician since antiquity’ in Latin. Though Gauss did not enjoy teaching, some of his students were very influenced by him such as Bernhard Riemann, Richard Dedekind and Friedrich Bessel who themselves became great mathematicians in their lives. Gauss attended only a single scientific conference in Berlin in 1828. He never wrote regularly or in abundance and refused to publish his incomplete works. It is believed that Gauss supported monarchy and was against the revolutionary Napoleon. According to Dunnington, Gauss was religious and believed in the concept of search for truth.
Childhood And Early Life
Carl Friedrich Gauss, born to a poor father and an illiterate mother, solved the puzzle of his own birth date and declared it to be 30 April 1777. Gauss was a genius since his childhood. In 1798, at the age of 21, he finished ‘Disquisitiones Arithmeticae’, his magnum opus, though it got published only in 1801. This work was of prime importance in consolidating number theory as a discipline and has evolved the field as it is studied today. The Duke of Braunschweig was so amazed by the Gauss's scholarly capabilities, that he sent him to the Collegium Carolinum (now known as Technische Universität Braunschweig), which Gauss attended from 1792 to 1795. He later moved to the University of Göttingen from 1795 to 1798. While in university, Gauss rediscovered numerous significant theorems.
Early Years And Career
The year 1796 was the most fortunate year for Gauss as well as for the number theory. He made several discoveries in this year, one after another. For instance, on 30 March, he discovered a construction of the heptadecagon. He reworked on the modular arithmetic and, to a large extent, simplified the manipulations in number theory. On 8 April, he proved the quadratic reciprocity law that allows mathematicians in finding out the solvability of any quadratic equation in modular arithmetic. On 31 May, Gauss conjectured the prime number theorem, providing a comprehensive understanding of how the prime numbers are distributed among the integers. On 10 July, Gauss also revealed that every positive integer can be expressed as a sum of at most three triangular numbers.
Gauss authored a doctorate in absentia in 1799 in which he gave a new proof of the theorem that every integral rational algebraic function of one variable can be determined into real factors of the first or second degree. Gauss verified the fundamental theorem of algebra, which states that each non-constant single-variable polynomial with complex coefficients has at least one complex root. His efforts simplified the concept of complex numbers to a great extent.
During that time, Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered a small planet ‘Ceres’ which vanished momentarily behind the sun’s glare and after several months, when Piazzi was anticipating seeing it, ‘Ceres’ didn’t appear. When Gauss, only 23 at that time, learnt about Piazzi’s problem, he started working on it. After three months of hard work, he located a position for Ceres in December 1801 and his calculations came out to be precise within a half-degree. In 1807, the genius Gauss was appointed as the Professor of Astronomy and Director of the astronomical observatory in Göttingen, a post he retained for the rest of his life.
Gauss associated with the physics professor Wilhelm Weber in 1831, which proved to be extremely rewarding. This connection led to the new knowledge in magnetism and the discovery of Kirchhoff's circuit laws in electricity. Gauss also formulated his namesake law. Weber and Gauss invented the first electromechanical telegraph in 1833, which linked the observatory with the Institute for physics in Göttingen. Following this, a magnetic observatory was constructed in the garden of the observatory, and with Weber, he founded the Magnetic club, which supported measurements of earth's magnetic field in many parts of the world. Gauss also developed a technique of calculating the horizontal intensity of the magnetic field successfully.
Gauss's personal life was a series of tragic events such as early death of his first wife, Johanna Osthoff, in 1809, followed by the death of one of his children, Louis. Gauss got married again, to Friederica Wilhelmine Waldeck, his first wife Johanna's best friend, but even she died in 1831 after a long illness. Gauss fathered six children from both his wives.
Death And Legacy
In 1855, Gauss expired in Göttingen, Hannover (now part of Lower Saxony, Germany) and was cremated in Albanifriedhof. After a study of his brain by Rudolf Wagner, it was known that Gauss’s brain had a mass of 1,492 grams and the cerebral area was 219,588 mm2 (340.362 square inches), proving that Gauss was a real genius!