Mathematician of the Month, December: Jules Henry Poincaré

on Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Did you know that:

  •  He was born on the 29th of April 1854 (Bastiaan)
  • His father was a physician (Michaella)
  • He grew up in Nancy (Jonathan)
  • He studied mathematics at the École Polytechnique in Paris from 1873 to 1875. After continuing his studies at the Mining School in Caen, he received his doctorate from the École Polytechnique in 1879 (Jonathan)
  • He had a phenomenal memory and never took notes in class. Although his eyesight was poor, after reading a book, he could recall the page on which any statement occurred (Michaella)
  • During his studies he discovered new types of complex functions that solved a wide variety of differential equations (Jonathan). This involved one of the first applications of non-Euclidean Geometry, a subject discovered about 1830, but not generally accepted until the 1860s and ‘70s (Jonathan)
  • He published a series of papers in 1880-84 on this which made his name known internationally (Jonathan). In the 1880s he also began work on the behavior of singular points of differential equations (Jonathan)
  • His main achievement in mathematical physics was his treatment of electromagnetic theories of Hermann van Helmholtz, Heinrich Hertz and Hendrik Lorentz, which seemed to contradict Newton’s Law of Mechanics (Jonathan)
  • He obtained the perfect invariance of all of Maxwell’s equations (Karima)
  • Which made him come close to anticipating Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (Jonathan)
  • He was interested in what the human mind understands, rather than what it can formalize (Jonathan). He therefore argued that although Euclidean and non-Euclidean Geometry are equally true, physics should be formulated in terms of Euclidean Geometry, but  was proven wrong by Einstein (Jonathan)
  • He was critical of attempts to reduce mathematics to symbolic logic or axiomatic set theory. He was proven right by Kurt Gõdel in 1931 (Jonathan)
  • He formulated the ‘Poincarė Conjecture’, which was one of the most famous unsolved mathematical problems until it was solved in 2002-2003 (Michaella)
  • He was one of the founders of the modern Chaos Theory (Karima)
  • He was considered for the Nobel Prize of Physics, but his work was too theoretical (Jonathan)
  • He is considered one of the greatest mathematicians in France (Bastiaan)In 1911 he received the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Soceity of the Pacific for his contributions in astronomy (Bastiaan)
  • He was also a philosopher and scientist (Bastiaan)
  • He is referred to as the last of the universalists, able to understand and contribute to almost all areas of mathematics (Bastiaan)
  • He is also described as a polymath (Karima)

  • Some of his famous quotes (Wei Qi): 
    • ‘Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things’
    • ‘Mathematicians do not study objects, but relations between objects’
    • ‘A very small cause which escapes our attention may determine a considerable effect, that we cannot fail to see, and then we say that effect is due to chance’
  • He passed away on the 17th of July 1912 (Bastiaan)

Anke Robertus


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