The Famous Mathematicians Behind the Contests

April 9, 2022

Have you ever participated in a Waterloo math contest before? Learn about seven famous mathematicians revered in history for their discoveries. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of these popular mathematicians, or are aware that they exist. But who were Euclid, Hypatia, Fermat, Pascal, Gauss, Galois, and Cayley, and what did they contribute to the field of mathematics?

Euclid (flourished 300 BCE)

Euclid, or Eukleides—was a Greek mathematician celebrated for the Elements, his mathematical treatise on geometry and other strands of math. He lived and taught in Alexandria, Egypt, during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter, who ruled from 323 BCE to 285 BCE. Ptolemy was the first pharaoh of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty, which would last almost three centuries until Egypt’s last pharaoh Cleopatra VII’s rule and the fall of Egypt. In Euclid’s writing, he discusses plane geometry, geometric algebra, ratios and proportions, number theory, and provides proofs for triangle theorems and the Pythagorean theorem. 

Hypatia (355-415 CE)

Hypatia was a female mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer. She is one of the earliest women in STEM whose life and work are remembered in history. Hypatia made commentaries on works like Diophantus of Alexandria’s Arithmetic, a book on number theory, and contributed to the creation of an astronomical table, which predicted lunar phases and the planets’ positions in the sky. She was a teacher and lecturer who liked analyzing philosophical ideas. Hypatia is known today as a feminist and a brilliant contributor in intellectual pursuit. 

Fermat (1607-1665 CE)

Pierre de Fermat was a French mathematician best known for his contributions to analytic geometry, probability, and number theory—Fermat’s Last Theorem in particular. This theorem states that there are no three natural integers a, b, and c that satisfy xn + yn = zn where n is an integer greater than 2. Fermat’s Last Theorem remained unproven for centuries until Andrew Wiles presented his error-free proof in 1995. Fermat studied law, and was also interested in languages, ancient science, and classical literature. 

Pascal (1623-1662 CE)

French mathematician Blaise Pascal also dabbled in other studies: he was a physicist, a philosopher, and a skilled writer. He pioneered and set the foundation for the modern understanding of probability theory. In his early 20’s, Pascal invented the Pascaline—a calculating device—to help his father’s career as a tax administrator. His invention was the first digital calculator, and operated by counting integer numbers. 

Gauss (1777-1855 CE)

Carl Friedrich Gauss was a German mathematician. He is known for his contributions to various fields of study, including number theory, probability, geometry, planetary astronomy, electromagnetism, and geodesy (earth sciences). Gauss was a prodigy at mental calculations, impressing his teachers. This talent landed him financial support from the duke of Brunswick to pursue his passion and education. In 1792, he discovered that a 17-sided regular polygon could be constructed using just a compass and ruler. Gauss wrote several other significant proofs, and prompted more interest and research in the study of mathematics. 

Galois (1811-1832 CE)

Évariste Galois was a French mathematician known for his developments in algebra. He was homeschooled until 1823, where he continued his education at Collège Royal de Louis-le-Grand. Galois discovered a passion for mathematics after studying Adrien-Marie Legendre’s work on geometry and Joseph-Louis Lagrange’s algebra. He improved the field of solving equations and died in a duel at the age of twenty. 

Cayley (1821-1895 CE)

British mathematician Arthur Cayley was a leader of Britain’s pure mathematics developments that thrived during the 19th century. After studying law, he practiced this profession while writing over 300 papers on mathematics! Cayley’s work was appreciated by the Royal Society, an academy dedicated to the sciences, and he was later presented with the Royal Medal. He wrote significant works such as his series of “Memoirs on Quantics” and was an active participant of many societies and organizations. 

All of these mathematicians demonstrate their wit and passion for mathematics—the subject of their love. Consider participating in a math contest today to honour the contributions of these seven brilliant mathematicians. 

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