Only the Good Die Young – the Very Short Life of Évariste Galois

Évariste Galois (1811-1832)

On June 1st, 1832, famous mathematician Évariste Galois was killed in a duel. He was only 20 years of age. And why did he have to die so young? Just because of a girl…

Her name was Stéphanie-Félicie Poterine du Motel, the daughter of a physician. But, there have been rumors that the duel has been set up by his political opponents while this could never be proven. His opponent was a well known shootist and also some people say that Galois has committed suicide because of the unhappy romance. So in the night before his duel Galois demanded his friend Auguste Chevalier to forward his mathematical writings to Carl Friedrich Gauss and Carl Gustav Jacobi, the two leading mathematicians of the time, and commented his writings with the note “Je n’ai pas le temps” (I do not have the time…). With a shot in the abdomen, he died the next morning in the Cochin hospital.  His last words to his younger brother Alfred were:

“Ne pleure pas, Alfred! J’ai besoin de tout mon courage pour mourir à vingt ans.” (Don’t cry, Alfred! I need all my courage to die at twenty.)

Galois founded the Galois Theory named after him for the solution of algebraic equations. While many mathematicians before Galois gave consideration to what are now known as groups, it was Galois who was the first to use the word group as understood today, making him among the founders of the branch of algebra known as group theory. He developed the concept that is today known as a normal subgroup. He also introduced the concept of a finite field also known as a Galois field in his honor.

At yovisto the short life of Évariste Galois is briefly recounted in a Ted talk ‘Symmetry – Reality’s Riddle‘ by Marcus du Sautoy.

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