Carl Friedrich Gauss
(Karl or Carl Friedrich Gauss; Brunswick, present-day Germany, 1777 – Göttingen, id., 1855) German mathematician, physicist and astronomer. Gauss elevated superior arithmetic to the category of queen of mathematics.
Born into a humble family, from a very early age Carl Friedrich Gauss showed a prodigious ability for mathematics (according to legend, at the age of three he interrupted his father when he was busy in accounting for his business to indicate a calculation error), to the point of being recommended to the Duke of Brunswick by his primary school teachers.
Among whose numerous findings it is worth mentioning: the first test of the law of quadratic reciprocity; an algebraic solution to the problem of how to determine whether a regular polygon of «n» sides can be constructed in a geometric way (without solving since the times of Euclid); an exhaustive treatment of the theory of congruent numbers; and numerous results with numbers and functions of complex variables (which he would return to in 1831, describing the exact way of developing a complete theory about them from their representations in the x, y plane) that marked the starting point of the modern theory of algebraic numbers.
His fame as a mathematician grew considerably that same year, when he was able to accurately predict the orbital behavior of the asteroid Ceres, first sighted a few months earlier, using the method of least squares, developed by himself in 1794 and still today the computational basis of modern astronomical estimation tools.
In 1807 he accepted the position of astronomy professor at the Göttingen Observatory, a position in which he spent his entire life. Two years later, his first wife, whom he had married in 1805, died giving birth to his third child; later he remarried and had three more children.
In those years Gauss matured his ideas about non-Euclidean geometry, that is, the construction of a logically coherent geometry that dispensed with Euclid’s postulate of parallels; although he did not publish his conclusions, he was more than thirty years ahead of the later works of Nikolai Lobachevski and Janos Bolyai.
Around 1820, engaged in the correct mathematical determination of the shape and size of the globe, Gauss developed numerous tools for the treatment of observational data, among which stands out the error distribution curve that bears his name, also known by the appellative of normal distribution and that constitutes one of the pillars of statistics.
Other results associated with his interest in geodesy are the invention of the heliotrope, and, in the field of pure mathematics, his ideas on the study of the characteristics of curved surfaces which, explicit in his work Disquisitiones generales circa superficies curca (1828), laid the foundations for modern differential geometry.
His attention was also drawn to the phenomenon of magnetism, which culminated in the installation of the first electric telegraph (1833). Intimately related to his research on this matter were the principles of the mathematical theory of potential, which he published in 1840.
Other areas of physics that Gauss studied were mechanics, acoustics, capillarity and, very especially, optics, a discipline on which he published the treatise Diopter Research (1841), in which he demonstrated that any lens system is always reducible to a single lens with the appropriate characteristics.
It was perhaps the last fundamental contribution of Karl Friedrich Gauss, a scientist whose depth of analysis, breadth of interests and rigour of treatment earned him the nickname of «prince of mathematics» during his lifetime.
Source: Biographies and Lives