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A Description of Gauss

By Robin H. Zimmermann
April 23rd, 1999

Gauss was an undoubtably brilliant German mathematian who lived from 1777 to 1855. He, during his lifetime, succeeded in correctly proving theorems that baffled such great mathematians as Euler. However, Gauss had a disinclination to actually publish his masterpieces of pure mathematics, and the only reason we know he proved some of them is his diary.

His astounding mathematical acumen was displayed at a early age. In one arithmetic class he was in, the teacher enjoyed giving himself breaks by assigning labourous mathematical tasks to his students. Once, the teacher set them to add up a set of 100 numbers, with the first number being 81297, and each number after that being the previous one plus 198. It was customary in that school for the first student to complete the assignment to lay his slate on the teacher's desk, and as the others finished, they would place their slates on the stack. Continuing with our story, the teacher had hardly finished stating the problem when Gauss walked up, flung his slate on the table, and declared,"There it lies". He then returned to his desk and sat with his arms folded while his fellow students toiled away. After all the slates were on the desk, the teacher began working his way through the pile, pointing out the inevetable errors on each one, until he came to Gauss's slate. Written on the slate was a single number, the correct answer.

Naturally, there was a simple method for solving such problems, but for a young student to deduce it instantaneously was incredible. This anecdote is a wonderful example of Gauss's genius.

Gauss exelled at math throughout his whole life, and his diary shows that he anticipated many innovations even before the 19th century began. He published a exellent mathematical treatise, the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, in 1801. He was also the first user of the complex plane, in which the x-axis is the real number line, and the y-axis is the 'imaginary' number line, and where the point (x,y) represents the complex number x+bi, when i equals the square root of minus one.

Gauss was at least as great a matematian and innovator as Newton, and deserves equal fame.

This report written by Robin Zimmermann on April 23rd, 1999, and converted into HTML on May 19, 1999.


Men of Mathematics by E. T. Bell
Copyright 1937 by E. T. Bell

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