Let’s admit it: math rarely gets the credit it deserves. Many people hate math because it’s seen as a complex subject. However, math has been the backbone and forerunner of almost every technological or scientific development. Healthcare? You’d undoubtedly find mathematical principles lurking somewhere. The same is in geography, tech, and numerous other sectors, which explains why online math for kids is essential in today’s world. Whether you’re teaching your child math for first graders or algebra, you’re definitely taking the right steps.
Unfortunately, most significant mathematicians rarely get the credit or recognition they deserve for their contributions to society. Thus, without further ado, let’s take a quick look at some of the most significant mathematicians in history as well as their achievements.
William Playfair, the father of charts
Have you ever heard of William Playfair? Playfair was a Scottish engineer and is also known as the founder of graphical statistics. He noticed and lamented the lack of data, which inspired him to create the bar chart in 1786. His argument was pretty simple and logical. According to Playfair, charts were easier models of communication than data tables.
But he didn’t just stop at creating the bar chart. He also went on to create the line, area, and pie charts. In fact, his work titled Statistical Breviary, which was published in 1801, contains the world’s first-ever pie chart.
Fun Fact: Apart from being an innovative mathematician and engineer, Playfair also served as a secret agent for Great Britain in its war against France.
Alan Turing, the father of computer science
Alan Turing is a household name. We hear it in almost every computer science or mathematics class. The Turing Machine. The Alan Turing Year. But what exactly did this great scientist do?
Alan Turing was an English mathematician, scientist, philosopher, and even a cryptanalyst. He bagged a degree in Mathematics from King’s College, Cambridge, where he published an evidential paper stating that some mathematical yes-no questions can’t be answered by computation. This proof further led to his invention of the Turing machine. He also designed the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) and helped develop the Manchester computers.
Sadly, despite his numerous achievements, Turing met an unfortunate end as he was prosecuted in 1952 and died about two years later. He currently appears on the Bank of England’s £50 note.
Pierre-Simon Laplace, the pioneer of statistics
Often referred to as the Newton of France, Pierre-Simon, Marquis of Laplace, was a renowned French scientist and polymath. Laplace was instrumental to the development of statistics as well as other fields like engineering and physics.
As one of the pioneers of mathematical physics, he invented the Laplace transform and also formulated Laplace’s equation. But that’s not where it ends. If you’re fascinated with black holes, you have to thank this scientist. Laplace was one of the first scientists to propose the existence of black holes and gravitational collapse.
After Laplace died in 1827, his brain was removed by his physician and displayed in an anatomical museum in Britain.
Thomas Bayes was a Presbyterian minister in the 18th century. However, beyond his love for the cloak, Bayes was also a statistician and a philosopher. He had a deep interest in probability and this interest led to the creation of Bayes theorem that solves the problem of inverse probability. This theorem has gone beyond mathematics and is now used in other numerous fields. He also wrote a paper on asymptotic series which was published after his death. Although Bayes died several centuries ago, he still lives on through his numerous legacies and institutes named after him.
Charles Babbage, the father of computers
Ever heard this phrase before? When you hear it, what comes to mind? A man holding a bottle and a computer swaddled in a onesie? Probably not. Charles Babbage is often touted as the father of computers because he invented the first-ever mechanical computer. His invention, the difference engine, paved the way for more advanced electronic computer designs.
He was one of the key founders of the Royal Astronomical Society and wrote up to three topical books during his lifetime. He also invented the “cow catcher,” a metal frame attached to the front of locomotives for clearing obstacles.
Not-so-fun fact: Babbage never lived to see the complete successful engineering of some of his designs.
Ada Lovelace, the world’s first-ever computer programmer
As a teenager and young adult, Ada Lovelace worked very closely with legendary Charles Babbage. But don’t build your hopes up; there was no chemistry between these two scientists. It was all physics and mathematics.
Lovelace had a strong mathematical background thanks to her mother, which paved the way for her career. She was particularly fascinated by Babbage’s difference engine and even translated an article on the topic. She augmented the paper with appended notes that were published centuries later.
To crown it all, one of her notes described an algorithm for Babbage’s machine and is considered the first-ever published computer algorithm. This notable achievement was the one that earned her recognition as the world’s first-ever computer programmer.
When we hear the name of Isaac Newton, what often comes to mind is the image of an apple and gravity. However, beyond his mathematical description of gravity, Newton has other achievements and discoveries.
A mathematician, alchemist, physicist, and theologian, Newton formulated the original laws of motion and universal gravitation. Moreover, Newton built the world’s first reflecting telescope known as the Newtonian telescope or the Newtonian reflector. Subsequently, he developed an advanced theory of color.
Isaac Newton is also credited with several mathematical and scientific theories like Newton’s identities and Newton’s methods.
Away from English and French mathematicians, the world has also advanced thanks to the contributions of some notable German mathematicians. Of course, it’s impossible to mention them without exploring the life and works of David Hilbert.
David Hilbert was one of the most significant mathematicians in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He pioneered and developed a wide range of fundamental theories such as mathematical physics, commutative algebra, proof theory, and invariant theory.
It may be interesting to know that Hilbert wasn’t just a legendary mathematician; he also nurtured some of his own. Among his PhD students, many went on to become renowned mathematicians.
If you’re looking to raise a mathematician, here’s one of the notable figures in history that may inspire you. Blaise Pascal was a child prodigy who eventually blossomed into a renowned mathematician, physicist, and inventor. At the tender age of 16, he wrote a treatise on projective geometry. Three years later, at 19, he began to develop and design calculating machines known as Pascal’s calculators or Pascalines. Thus, he is often credited as one of the first inventors of the mechanical calculators. Today, the surviving Pascalines are held in museums in Paris and Germany.
Pascal also developed probability theory, which is one of his most notable contributions to the field of mathematics. So, if you ever come across this theory, you’ve got to thank to Pascal!
John von Neumann
John Von Neumann is yet another significant mathematician in history. He was what most people would term “a versatile mathematician.” This is because he made several notable contributions to different fields including physics, computing, statistics, and mathematics. He was also one of the first scientists to apply operator theory to quantum mechanics.
But that’s not all. During the Second World War, Neumann created the mathematical models for the explosive lenses used in nuclear weapons. He also coined the term “Kiloton.”
Fun fact: During his lifetime, John Von Neumann published over 150 papers across different fields, including pure and applied mathematics, physics, and other mathematical subjects. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Mathematicians have played a huge role in technological development and the advancement of the world. If you’re looking to pursue a career in mathematics, you might want to take a look at the stories of some of the founding fathers and draw inspiration from them. Although this is in no way an exhaustive list, only the names of some of the most significant figures in mathematical history. These mathematicians have paved the way for numerous prodigies and geniuses today.
We hope that their stories and notable achievements inspire you as much as they’ve inspired us.