Carl Friedrich Gauss is one of the best known mathematicians in history. From the obvious genius portrayed in his early life, to the masterful discoveries he made in later life, it is no wonder that he is renowned for his mathematic skills and abilities. Carl Gauss’s greatest contributions were in number theory, statistics, analysis, differential geometry, electrostatics, astronomy and optics.
Carl Gauss was born on April 30, 1777 in Brunswick, Germany. He was the only son of Gebhard Gauss and Dorothea Benze. Neither of his parents had much education, though Gauss credited his genius to his mother, who could read, but not write. However, besides this recognition, from the earliest records, there is no sign that Gauss had a very strong emotional attachment to either of his parents or felt especially influenced by them. As a young child, Gauss showed his genius through learning to read and write independently and doing elementary calculations at only three years old.
Gauss’s real education began in 1784 when he started elementary school. His teacher, Buttner, took an interest in Gauss from the start. Buttner not only obtained an additional special arithmetic text for Gauss to study, but also helped him to get into secondary school.
In 1791, Gauss met his prince, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel. The Duke, like Buttner, also realized Gauss’ brilliance at such a young age and gave him a scholarship to increase his education at the academy Collegium Carolinum. There, Gauss learned under one of his best teachers, Professor Hofrath von Zimmerman. He also made good friends at the academy, Eschenburg , K. Ide, and Meyerhoff. Although these people were all influential, one factor at Collegium Carolinum helped him as a mathematician even more; the library. It was exceptionally good for studying math texts such as “Euler’s Algebra and Analysis” and other Lagrange works. This is where Gauss spent nearly all of his free time. Gauss may have seemed secluded at times because of his frequent time spent alone, absorbed in mathematical books, but the opportunity to study independently was one of his teachers’ best contributions to his later discoveries.
Strange though it may seem, Gauss had no interest in having an appearance of genius, even though it was part of a movement going on in Germany during his life. Having the status of a genius was original and revolutionary; the Germans embraced this concept, partly because of the political situation that the country was in. However, even as Gauss’s education continued, he simply wanted to learn and continue on, because math interested him greatly.
From 1795-1798, he attended the University of Gottingen. This was against the wishes of the Duke who wanted him to attend a more religious school, Helmstedt. Gauss liked Gottingen mainly because of the library and the science-oriented “reform” university reputation. He was impressed by the lectures of Heyne and Lichtenberg and became friends with Wolfgang von Bolyai (Bolyai is important because he kept records and wrote letters including material that noted aspects of Gauss’s life and ideas). Improving in education, but already with several math theories under development, Gauss studied at the university for three years. He left early without a diploma, for unknown reasons, but obtained a degree “in absentia” from the University of Helmstedt in 1799.
Gauss’s mathematical papers, the basic ideas certainly developed by now, would be published over the next twenty-five years. After his death on February 23, 1855, even more of his works were found and published -works that had never been intended for publication. These papers, with their theories and calculations, are what make Gauss famous. They are brilliant contributions to the mathematical world and are still taught in schools and used in society today.
The first major paper was on number theory. Number theory is one of the oldest and largest branches of mathematics. It involves whole numbers or rational numbers. Gauss worked mostly with Algebraic Number Theory. He was the first to apply a strict use of infinite series of numbers. In his discoveries, he worked with finite solutions. Eventually a part of Algebraic Number Theory was even named after Gauss because of his discoveries: Gaussian integers. Gauss dealt with the theory of congruent numbers, gave the first proof of quadratic reciprocity, and determined that a regular polygon with any given number of corners can be geometrically constructed. In more simple terms, he proved that any polygon with a prime number, like 17, can be constructed with a ruler and compass. All of these discoveries affect the modern arithmetical theory of algebraic numbers, or the solution to algebraic equations.
With statistics, Gauss used the method of least squares. This method’s use is in determining how likely of a value something has from multiple available options. He created the Gaussian law of error to defend this method. The law later became known as the normal distribution, used in probability and statistics.
Later in life, Gauss took an interest in astronomy. He and an astronomer named Zach published predictions on where a planet called Ceres would be located in the sky. Gauss took a major part in calculations for the project. On December 7, 1801, Ceres appeared exactly they had predicted. It was made known years later that the prediction for the planet Ceres appearance was due to Gauss’s method of least squares.
Gauss also was interested in geodesy and helped to develop an efficient method of conformal mapping, mapping that included angles, which allowed all material from a land to be displayed on the 2D map.
These are only a few of the accomplishment of Gauss. He mainly contributed to mathematics, but also took part in other science fields. His contributions affect our system of education and science today. He majorly influenced number theory, including algebra and geometry, as well as other fields of mathematics, such as statistics and probability. His equations can solve problems that were a mystery to mathematicians before his time. A lot of the theories that he discovered and re-proved are what make up modern mathematics. From his early childhood signs of genius, to his breakthroughs in later life- due partly to influential teachers and people who supported him- Carl Friedrich Gauss proved himself to be one of history’s greatest mathematicians. It’s no wonder that he is still recognized and remembered by educators, scientists, and many others even today.