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Carl Friedrich Gauss: The Greatest Mathematician Essay (Biography)

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Updated: Jun 1st, 2022

Carl Friedrich Gauss was also known as Johann Friedrich Carl Gauss, the greatest mathematician in history with contributions in the field of geometry, statistics, number theory, astronomy, potential theory, geophysics, astronomy, and many others.

Carl Friedrich Gauss was born in Burnwick, Germany on April 30, 1777. Being the only child of poor parents, he did not go to school from a young age. However, Gauss could do complex calculations in his head. He held this capability even before he learned how to talk. He taught himself to read. Gauss’ father did not support his education as he did not think that it could be used to help feed the family. One of Gauss’ teachers convinced his father to let him stay back after class to study. From the time that he could calculate he started with arithmetical experimentation and solved his first complex problem at the age of eight.

According to Jeremy John, Gauss’ teachers and parents recommended him to the Duke of Burnswick in 1791, who financially helped him to continue his education locally and further at the University of Göttingen from 1795 to 1798 (Gray par.3). Before this, he attended the Collegium Carolinum (now ) from 1792 to 1795. In 1798, Gauss came back to Burnswick but worked and lived alone. During the first year of his return to Burnswick, he worked on and developed the four proofs that are now used in the fundamental theorem of algebra. In 1799, Gauss defended his doctorate, under the supervision and mentorship of J.F. Pfaff, from the University of Helmstedt (“Carl Friedrich Gauss Biography – German Mathematician”).

During his school and college years, Gauss was way ahead of his colleagues and classmates when it came to studying elementary geometry, algebra, and analysis. He was also very comfortable with number theories and arithmetic. Gauss wanted to conduct empirical investigation and experimentation with arithmetic. According to the Encyclopaedia of World Biography, in 1792 Gauss discovered that a regular polygon with 17 sides can be constructed without any complex tools, only with the help of a ruler and compass alone (“Karl Friedrich Gauss Biography”.). The result was not as significant as the way that led to the result. For example, an analysis of the factorization of polynomial equations was conducted. Riami in his presentation shared that Gauss’ Ph.D. was based on the fundamental theorem of algebra which Gauss proved in 1797 (Raimi par. 4).

According to Riami in his presentation, when deciding on what to become, Gauss had wanted to become a philologist, but he instead became a mathematician (Raimi par. 7). The discovery which led him to become a mathematician was the construction of 17 sides of a regular polygon mentioned above. The first paper that was ever published by Gauss was written on algebraic number theory, the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, in 1801. His second major publication was written when he rediscovered the Ceres asteroid. Many astronomers were working on rediscovering the asteroid, but it was Gauss, who was able to succeed. Gauss applied the method of least squares to help him calculate the orbit and find out when the Ceres asteroid would reappear (“Gauss, Carl Friedrich”).

Gauss was working as an assistant of the Duke, who increased his stipend and treated him quite well. However, Gauss wanted something more, he wanted an established post for himself and the one that was on his mind was a Professor of Mathematics. Gauss was not interested in becoming a professor and teaching elementary arithmetic to students who were not interested in studying Mathematics. Astronomy intrigued him and offered him the alternative that he was looking for. This led to him being accepted to the “Challenge of Hanover”, the project that lasted from 1818 till 1832, and resulted in some major achievements. Gauss invented the heliotrope during this time. Also, he discovered that there is an intrinsic measure of curvature leading to the clarity of why a map of Earth could never be drawn exactly as it was.

The 1830s were a time when Gauss gained interest in terrestrial magnetism. Weber and Gauss worked together Math Rochestor among other sources, in developing the first electric telegraph. This led to the discovery of the potential theory, something that is important in the physics that we study today. Gauss did not share some of his discoveries mainly because he began to doubt the truth of Elucidean geometry and worked on proving a logical alternative.

According to Encyclopedia.com, Gauss’s personal life was generally isolated (“Carl Friedrich Gauss”). He developed a romantic relationship with Wolfgang Bolyai, with whom he would discuss geometry foundations, but this relationship ended when Bolyai returned to Hungary to pursue his work. Gauss could only share his thoughts with Pfaff at the time but since Pfaff was someone who was guiding him with his doctorate, it was never on an equal level. Sophie Germain was someone Gauss shared letters with and discussed mathematics, but it never resulted in anything. Sophie was in Paris and Gauss never visited France. Gauss was someone who worked and lived alone. He did not have many friends and led an isolated life. Gauss did marry in 1805, to a woman named Johanna Osthoff, as mentioned in various sources for example by Riami in his presentation (Raimi par. 9). She bore him a son and a daughter but died during the birth of the third child. After the death of his first wife, according to the website, Encyclopedia.com, he married his wife’s best friend Minna Waldeck, who also gave him three children: two sons and a daughter (“Gauss, Carl Friedrich”). But Gauss was not happy till a later stage in his life when his youngest daughter took over the household. His sons moved to the US.

Gauss was a nationalist and royalist, as mentioned in the article on Encyclopedia.com (“Gauss, Carl Friedrich.”). He did not agree with Napoleon and thought that he would bring about a dangerous revolution with which Gauss did not agree. However, his religious views were the same as those of the political opponents. Gauss was not a religious man in front of people, and he preferred to keep his religious ideas and views to himself, as mentioned in Encyclopedia.com (Kenneth par. 5).

Gauss passed away in 1855 at the age of 77. He left much of his work unpublished, which was discovered after his death. When it was shared, it made a name for him for the end of the 1800s. From, most of the published works were in Latin, which was one of the many languages that Gauss knew, as well as French and Russian. He officially published 150 works. Gauss was awarded on many notations – he was appointed a Geheimrat – a privy councillor and was also featured on the 10 Deutsche Mark currency note, according to Jeremy John Gray (Gray par. 4). Gauss was also appointed as a foreign member of the Royal Society of London in 1801, and in 1838 he won the Copley medal, as mentioned in a few sources, such as the Famous Scientists page as well as by Riami in his presentation. Within the University of Göttingen, a statue has been erected of Gauss and Weber and is on the view (“Gauss Page”).

Gauss’ contributions to the field of mathematics, physics, and astronomy are fundamental and have paved the way for many other mathematicians, astronomers, and physicists to develop their theorems. It was Gauss who discovered the bell curve and Gaussian error curve (which has been named after him). He is usually named the most influential mathematician of a century.

Works Cited

“Carl Friedrich Gauss.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web.

“Carl Friedrich Gauss.” Famous Scientists, n.d. Web. 2015.

“Gauss, Carl Friedrich.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Encyclopedia.com, 2008. Web.

Kenneth, O. May. “Gauss, Carl Friedrich.”. Encyclopedia.com., 2008. Web.

“Gauss Page.” Gauss Page, n.d. Web. 2015.

Gray, Jeremy John. “Carl Friedrich Gauss Biography – German Mathematician.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2014. Web.

“Karl Friedrich Gauss Biography.” Encyclopaedia of World Biography Online. Encyclopaedia of World Biography, n.d. Web. 2015.

Raimi, S. “Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss.” Prezi.com, 2012. Web.

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