Mathematics is an inter-disciplinary discipline that deals with numbers, data, space, quantity and structure among other similar components. Mathematicians are the experts in this field who possess an extensive knowledge of the subject and continuously contribute to its developments either by means of theory or practical application.
There are innumerable famous mathematicians who made extraordinary contributions to the field of mathematics since the day the discipline came into being. Thales of Miletus is said to be one of the earliest pioneers of mathematics and a true expert of the field. He lived around c. 624–c.546 BC making the earliest discoveries in mathematics. Moreover, he is accredited for applying the use of deductive reasoning on geometry. Besides Thales, there was Pythagoras of Samos whose existence dates back to c. 582. He was so taken with mathematics that he lived by the doctrine that all can be explained through this field and numbers make up all. The terminology mathematics was the coinage of Pythagoreans who studied under him.
Men may have ruled throughout the centuries and made countless discoveries but there were women, even if few and far between, who made considerable contribution to scientific developments. The first ever female mathematician recorded in the history was Hypatia of Alexandria. She wrote several papers on applied mathematics following her ascension as Librarian at the Great Library that was previously ran by her father. The hypocritical Christian society at that time could not see a woman in charge, thus over some political dispute they publicly punished her severely.
During the medieval times, the Muslim scholars made astonishing scientific discoveries. The government funded the scholars and owing to equally beneficial patronage the scientific developments flourished in the Islamic world. Translations of a number of scientific manuscripts into other languages was encouraged by Caliphs in particular time periods. Al-Khwarizmi, a leading Muslim mathematician, was one such figure who benefited from the support. Most of the Muslim mathematicians were polymaths whose expertise extended to other related fields such as astronomy, algebra, optics etc.
With the advent of Renaissance in the sixteenth century, there was a great emphasis that was laid on scientific growth and mathematics throughout Europe. It was a time of great transformation and transition as the feudal based society was then gradually began to shift to more secular traditions. There were numerous key mathematicians who existed at that time but had other main occupations. Niccolò Fontana Tartaglia was a bookkeeper and a notable engineer, while Robert Recorde was a physician and François Viète was an attorney by profession. It suggests that mathematics was not considered a serious discipline, worthy enough to provide a respected profession. It used to be a fleeting passion of a few who could survive on other occupations.
However, the tide changed and many mathematically inclined figures flocked to academic institutes to receive formal and systematic knowledge in mathematics. Free thinking began to be promoted in British universities during the early seventeenth century which was already present in German and Italian universities. It led to the revolutionary progress in the following generation of students.
Twentieth century preeminent German mathematicians, Albert Einstein was a child prodigy who excelled in the discipline like no other had. He himself expressed his genius saying, “I never failed in mathematics…before I was fifteen I had mastered differential integral calculus.” Another noteworthy mathematician Isaac Newton had English origins. The seventeenth century mathematician is best known for his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. The book played a pivotal role in the comprehension of mechanics.
Besides, there was an illustrious Italian mathematician during middle ages, who was credited for introducing Arabic-Hindu number system European world. Leonardo Pisano Bigollo, also known as Fibonacci, pioneered the ‘Fibonacci sequence’. René Descartes was another distinguished multi-talented mathematician of French origin, who lived during the first half of the seventeenth century. Contemporary mathematicians regard him as the father of analytical geometry and he also contributed to the understanding of infinitesimal calculus and analysis.
One of the early mathematicians, Archimedes was a Greek scholar. He was known for propagating the mathematics of antiquity. Moreover, he calculated the exact value of pi and laid down principles to be used in applied mathematics. Belonging to American nationality, John Forbes Nash, Jr. was a leading early twentieth century mathematician. His most prominent work includes the Nash embedding theorem. He is attributed to the development in game theory, partial differential equations and differential geometry.
During the seventeenth century a distinguished scholar came to the mathematical forefront in France, Blaise Pascal. He was regarded very highly in two areas of mathematics; probability theory and projective geometry. Additionally, he earned fame for Pascal’s Triangle, a research paper on the table of binomial coefficients. The earliest mathematical genius who pioneered the field of geometry was Euclid. He was a Greek scholar who wrote books on math that are considered some of the earliest written discourse in the field. Elements was written from pedagogical perspective to teach mathematics and geometry. ‘Euclidean geometry’ was the term pioneered to reflect his system of mathematics.
As mentioned earlier that women mathematicians were very rare but those who explored this discipline left an indelible footprint on the subject by making advancements through their significant discoveries. Ada Lovelace was one such rare influential female English mathematicians. Her work on Euclidean geometry remained an astounding scientific development. Furthermore, she composed an algorithm that was later employed in a computer program that led to her recognition as the first computer programmer. Another leading mathematician and computer programmer of twentieth century was Alan Turing who is best known for being the father of computer science. His mathematical study paved way for the development of an algorithm which proved to be beneficial in the computational programs.
A Hungarian twentieth century mathematician, John von Neumann, made unprecedented scientific discoveries employing mathematical calculations. He is responsible for mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics and credited for operator theory. Fermat’s Last Theorem was one of the most complex theorems known to mathematicians throughout centuries. It was considered unsolvable until Andrew Wiles, a British mathematician proved it in 1994.
Aforementioned mathematicians were some of the most influential figures in the history who not only expanded the area of mathematical study but made distinct scientific discoveries which led to the development of mankind, in simpler words.