Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was a German mathematician and scientist. His contributions to these fields are still notable in today’s standards. Some of his discoveries in mathematics include the creation of a 17 sided regular polygon, proofs of multiple theorems, along with a book, “Disquisitiones arithmeticae,” which is sometimes referred to as the birth of modern number theory.
Gauss was born April 30, 1777, in Brunswick Germany to two lower class working parents. His father Gebhard Dietrich Gauss, was a gardener and mason, and his mother Dorothea Gauss was the daughter of a stonemason. Gauss’s intelligence was first discovered very early on in elementary school when his teacher assigned a brain teaser to the class. The class was instructed to add up the sums of the numbers 1 – 100. To his teacher’s amazement, the young Gauss produced the correct answer in seconds. He quickly discovered that each of two numbers from opposite ends of the numbers given would add up to 101. (1 + 100 = 101, 2 + 99 = 101, 3 + 98 = 101) He used this pattern to develop a simple equation, 50 x 101 to come up with the answer, 5050. His teacher quickly realized after this that Gauss was not an ordinary student. Special advanced text books were ordered for him through rest of elementary school as his knowledge expanded even further.
After leaving elementary school, Gauss’s father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a laborer. After all, this working class family could not afford sending their son to any further schooling. His mother however, saw her sons promise, and subsequently presented him to the Duke Of Brunswick. The Duke was so impressed with Gauss’s knowledge that he provided him with scholarships to the “Collegium Carolinum” in Brunswick from 1792- 1795 and later to the “University of Göttingen” from 1795-1798. During this time period in which Gauss was still very young, he made some of his greatest mathematical discoveries. First, Gauss astounded the mathematical world by creating a 17 sided shape, a decaheptagon, which was until then believed to be impossible. He also developed proofs for multiple mathematical theorems in which he revised meticulously to perfection. The first theorem he proved was the “the fundamental theorem of algebra”, which stated every algebraic equation has at least one root or solution. Although the theorem was developed much earlier, it could not be fully proved until Gauss did so. Gauss also successfully developed proofs for the quadratic reciprocity law, and the prime number theorem. In 1801, Gauss published a book “Disquisitiones arithmeticae”, which provided clear proofs of the above theorems and laws, and was also devoted to his contributions to “number theory”.
Later in his life, Gauss applied his vast knowledge in mathematics to science, specifically to the study of astronomy and the magnetic fields of the Earth. One of his first scientific contributions occurred when he used math to predict the orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres, which scientists had previously only been able to observe for a few months at a time, after which it would disappear. Following this, Gauss made discoveries in differential geometry which led to the development of “Theorema Egregium” which dealt with the different properties of curvature. Gauss also made contributions to physics when he did extensive research into the Earth magnetic fields. Eventually he developed a system which he could measure the intensity of the magnetism in certain areas.
Outside of his works, Gauss was a fairly depressed person, as deaths of his loved ones scarred him in a way that he never fully recovered. The first of the deaths came with his first wife, along with his first son. Later, his second wife died after battling a longstanding illness. These deaths however did not change Gauss’s hard working and perfectionist personality. He continued to learn every day, and he recorded his findings in personal journals. Gauss had a total of six children, none of which went into the fields of math or science because their father would not allow it. Although Gauss did have a personal life, his life seemed centered mostly around his work. One quote that defines Gausses personality is “Tell her to wait a moment till I’m done.” Gauss is referring to his dying wife, as he needed to finish the work at hand before going to see her.
Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss died on February 23, 1855 in Göttingen, Germany of natural causes. His legacy is comprised of his prodigious contributions to math and science. Gauss, along with many others of his time, helped lay the foundation upon which modern mathematicians and scientists continue to build upon today.