Apart from being a well-known mathematician, Jules Henri Poincare also indulged in the study of philosophy. He learned much during his lifetime and was later called ‘Polymath’ for his strong foothold in a wide array of subjects. As a mathematician, he discovered and created the field of topology, and studied the continuity of shapes. This would later help him answer a crucial question based on the solar system and its stability. He also contributed to the field of nonlinear systems and went on to describe the many properties of deterministic chaos. He was a great philosopher of science and appreciated works that were largely based on celestial mechanics. The first person to present the ‘Lorentz Transformations’, Henri Poincare was a pioneer in the field of special relativity and went on to influence a long list of mathematicians who also became popular in this field. With his colossal contribution and religious dedication to the subject, Henri Poincare became a legend, and a special group used in physics and mathematics called the ‘Poincare Group’ was named after him.
Childhood And Early Life
Jules Henri Poincare was born 29th April 1854 to Leon Poincare and Eugenie Launois. He was born in the town of Nancy into an affluent family and his father was a professor of Medicine at the University of Nancy. Poincare was born into a family of repute and celebrity status. Poincare’s first cousin, Raymond Poincare would become the president of France, serving presidential term between the years 1913 to 1920.
As a child, Henri Poincare was known to have been an enthusiastic boy who reveled in the subject of mathematics. Although he had poor eye sight and a low concentration span, he always excelled in the subjects related to science and mathematics. He won countless awards and prestigious prizes and graduated from Lycee in 1871 with a Bachelor’s degree in Sciences and Letters. Later, he enrolled at the ‘Polytechnic College’ in 1873, where he continued to study mathematics and published his first dissertation, under the guidance of Charles Hermite, in 1874. He successfully graduated from the college in 1875 and earned an engineering degree from “Ecole des Mines” in 1879.
Poincare’s career flourished the same year when he joined the ‘Corps des Mines’ as an inspector in the northeastern province of France, in a place called Vesoul. He was once called to oversee the scene of a mining disaster in 1879. He scientifically explored the different aspects of the disaster and put forth a probable conclusion to the investigation much later. Soon after he graduated from the University of Paris the same year, he was asked to assume post as a secondary lecturer in mathematics at the Caen University.
He served the University of Paris as a professor for a long time. He held countless positions in the physics and mathematics department, and also diversified into the field of astronomy. In the beginning of 1880, Poincare discovered that automorphic and elliptic functions were connected to the same group of algebraic equations. Through the course of the 1880’s, Poincare did fundamental work in the field of celestial mechanics and went on to produce a treatise with his findings. In 1887, he came up with the famous ‘three body problem’ which studied the motion of orbiting objects. Oscar, the 2nd king of Sweden, awarded Poincare when he succeeded in finding out the solution to the problem of gauging the stability of the solar system. This was a classic example of classical mechanics, and eventually led to the discovery of the ‘Theory of Chaos’. The theory of ‘Special Relativity’ was co-founded by Henri Poincare along with Hendrik Lorentz and Albert Einstein.
Although continuously engaged in discovering various aspects of science and mathematics, Poincare continued to work as an engineer and was later promoted to chief engineer at the Corps de Mines in 1893, followed by a promotion to inspector in 1910. He also joined the French Bureau of Longitudes where he coordinated time around the world. In the beginning of 1895, Poincare discovered and introduced modern methods of topology, and came up with various differential equations that helped understand the theory of continuity. In 1899, he created the treatise ‘Les Methodes Nouvelles de la Mecanique Celeste’ in different editions and volumes; this became the “Bible” for the world of mathematics and celestial mechanics.
Through his tenure, Poincare made significant contributions to the world of mathematics and science in the form of Algebraic topology, the theory of relativity, the recurrence theorem, the three-body problem, quantum mechanics and differential equations etc. He inspired a long line of students who would also go on to make an indelible mark in the field of math and science. Some of his prized students were Dimitrie Pompieu, Tobiaz Dantzig and Louis Bachelier.
Poincare married Miss Poulain d’Andecy in the beginning of 1881 and fathered four children with her. He was given many awards and was recognized for his contributions by the French Academy of Sciences and the Royal Astronomical Society in London. Although he was a career-minded person, Poincare was said to have been a doting family person also.
Death And Legacy
In the first half of 1912, Poincare developed a prostate problem and had to undergo surgery. He consequently succumbed to embolism on July 17th 1912 at the age of 58. Poincare’s works went on to make history all over the world. He wrote several books which led to the continuation of his fabled legacy. His works on thermodynamics, quantum physics, optics and fluid mechanics inspired a long line of successors in the fields of physics and mathematics, like Marie Curie.
Institutions and seminars began to adopt Poincare’s name and attached it with theirs such as the ‘Institut Henri Poincare’ and the ‘Poincare Seminar’. His legacy travelled to as far as the solar system, and a specific crater on the moon was named ‘Poincare crater’ after him.