Some Famous Faces in the History of Maths...

maths history einstein

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

"Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater."

maths history max planck
Max Planck
(1858 – 1947)
maths history John venn
John Venn
maths history lord kelvin
Lord Kelvin
(1824 - 1907)
maths history george boole
George Boole
(1815 - 1864)
maths history charles babbage
Charles Babbage
(1791 - 1871)
maths history isaacnewton
Sir Isaac Newton
(1643 - 1727)
maths history blaise pascal
Blaise Pascal
(1623 - 1662)
maths history john napier
John Napier
(1550 - 1617)
maths history fibonacci
(1170 - 1250)
maths history omar khayyam
Omar Khayyam
(1048 - 1131)
maths history hipparchus
(c190 - 120 BC)
maths history archimedes
(c287 - 212 BC)
maths history aristarchus
(310 - 230 BC)
maths history pythagoras
(582 - 507 BC)

The History of Mathematics

For countless thousands of years mankind has had a fascination with his environment, trying to find reason, meaning and purpose in all that is – and then exploiting it.

This desire, or obsession, to understand and achieve continues to influence our lives to this day – perhaps increasingly so as our reliance on technology accelerates. Where, when and why it all began we can only guess – but here's a brief progress report so far:

Circa 30,000BC
Palaeolithic peoples in Europe record numbers on bones.

Circa 5000BC
A decimal number system is in use in Egypt.

Circa 3400BC
The first number symbols, simple straight lines, are used in Egypt.

Circa 3000BC
The abacus is used in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas.

Circa 1850BC
Babylonians know Pythagoras's Theorem.

Circa 1800BC
Babylonians use multiplication tables.

Circa 1400BC
A decimal number system, with no zero, is used in China

Pythagoras of Samos moves to Croton in Italy and teaches mathematics, geometry, music – and reincarnation.

Circa 450BC
Greeks begin to use written numerals.

Circa 290BC
Aristarchus of Samos uses a geometric method to calculate the distance of the Sun and the Moon from Earth. He also proposes that the Earth orbits the Sun.

Circa 250BC
Archimedes gives the formulae for calculating the volume of a sphere and a cylinder. He also gives an approximation of the value of π. He studies hydrostatics and explains what is now called "Archimedes' principle".

Hipparchus discovers the precession of the equinoxes and calculates the length of the year to within 6.5 minutes of the correct value. He uses an early form of trigonometry in his astronomical work.

Circa 1AD
Liu Hsin, a Chinese mathematician uses decimal fractions.

Circa 700
Mathematicians in the Mayan civilization introduce a symbol for zero into their number system.

Circa 810
The 'House of Wisdom' is established in Baghdad, where Greek and Indian mathematical and astronomical works are translated into Arabic.

Gerbert of Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II) reintroduces the abacus into Europe. He uses Indian/Arabic numerals without having a zero.

Codex Vigilanus is copied in Spain and contains the first evidence of decimal numbers in Europe.

Al-Khayyami (Omar Khayyam) writes Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra which contains a complete classification of cubic equations with geometric solutions found by means of intersecting conic sections. He measures the length of the year to be 365.24219858156 days.

Circa 1200
The Chinese start to use a symbol for zero.

Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa) writes Liber abaci (The Book of the Abacus), which sets out the arithmetic and algebra he had learnt in Arab countries. It also introduces the famous sequence of numbers now called the "Fibonacci sequence".

Li Yeh writes a book which contains negative numbers, denoted by putting a diagonal stroke through the last digit.

Mathematics becomes a compulsory subject for a degree at the University of Paris.

Widman writes an arithmetic book in German which contains the first appearance of + and - signs.

Vander Hoecke uses the + and - signs.

Snell makes the first attempt to measure a degree of the meridian arc on the Earth's surface, and so determine the size of the Earth.

Bachet publishes a work on mathematical puzzles and tricks which will form the basis for almost all later books on mathematical recreations. He devises a method of constructing magic squares.

Napier publishes his work on logarithms.

Napier invents Napier's bones, consisting of numbered sticks, as a mechanical calculator.

Albert Girard publishes a treatise on trigonometry containing the first use of the abbreviations sin, cos, tan. He also gives formulae for the area of a spherical triangle.

Harriot's contributions are published ten years after his death in Artis analyticae praxis (Practice of the Analytic Art). The book introduces the symbols > and < for "greater than" and "less than" but these symbols are due to the editors of the work and not Harriot himself.

Pascal builds a calculating machine to help his father with tax calculations. It performs only additions.

Rahn publishes Teutsche algebra which contains ÷ (the division sign) probably invented by Pell.

Jones introduces the Greek letter π to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

Newton publishes Arithmetica universalis (General Arithmetic) which contains a collection of his results in algebra.

Simson notes that in the Fibonacci sequence the ratio between adjacent numbers approaches the golden ratio.

Royal Society of Edinburgh is founded.

Peter Roget (the author of Roget's Thesaurus) invents the "log-log" slide rule.

Babbage begins construction of a large "difference engine" which is able to calculate logarithms and trigonometric functions. He was using the experience gained from his small "difference engine" which he constructed between 1819 and 1822.

Boole publishes The Mathematical Analysis of Logic, in which he shows that the rules of logic can be treated mathematically rather than metaphysically. Boole's work lays the foundation of computer logic.

Thomson (Lord Kelvin) proposes the absolute temperature scale now named after him.

Möbius describes a strip of paper that has only one side and only one edge. Now known as the "Möbius strip", it has the surprising property that it remains in one piece when cut down the middle. Listing makes the same discovery in the same year.

Mannheim invents the first modern slide rule that has a "cursor" or "indicator".

London Mathematical Society founded.

Moscow Mathematical Society is founded.

Société Mathématique de France is founded.

Venn introduces his "Venn diagrams" which become a useful tools in set theory.

The Edinburgh Mathematical Society is founded.

St Petersburg Mathematical Society is founded.

Planck proposes quantum theory.

Einstein publishes the special theory of relativity.

Einstein publishes his principle of equivalence, in which says that gravitational acceleration is indistinguishable from acceleration caused by mechanical forces. It is a key ingredient of general relativity.

Hardy and Weinberg present a law describing how the proportions of dominant and recessive genetic traits would be propagated in a large population. This establishes the mathematical basis for population genetics.

Einstein submits a paper giving a definitive version of the general theory of relativity.

Richardson publishes Weather Prediction by Numerical Process. He is the first to apply mathematics, in particular the method of finite differences, to predicting the weather. The calculations are prohibitive by hand calculation and only the development of computers will make his idea a reality.

Church invents "lambda calculus" which today is an invaluable tool for computer scientists.

Norbert Wiener publishes Cybernetics: or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. The term "cybernetics" is due to Wiener. The book details work done on the theory of information control, particularly applied to computers.

Shannon invents information theory and applies mathematical methods to study errors in transmitted information. This becomes of vital importance in computer science and communications.

Mauchly and John Eckert build the Binary Automatic Computer (BINAC). One of the major advances of this machine is that data is stored on magnetic tape rather than on punched cards.

Mandelbrot publishes Les objets fractals, forme, hasard et dimension which describes the theory of fractals.

Mandelbrot publishes The fractal geometry of nature which develops his theory of fractal geometry more fully than his work of 1975.


Would you like to learn more?

The information above has been extracted from a chronology compiled by The University of St. Andrews, Scotland. To explore the complete listing click here.

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