Pierre Simon de Laplace and his true love for Astronomy and Mathematics

Pierre Simon marquis de Laplace (1749-1827)

On March 28, 1749, French mathematician and astronomer Pierre Simon marquis de Laplace was born, whose work was pivotal to the development of mathematical astronomy and statistics. One of his major achievements was the conclusion of the five-volume Mécanique Céleste (Celestial Mechanics) which translated the geometric study of classical mechanics to one based on calculus, opening up a broader range of problems.

Pierre Simon Laplace, the son of a cider merchant was born in the Normandie, and grew up as a well educated child attending the local school at a Benedictine priory. In later years, he was sent to Caen in order to study theology and philosophy were he found out about his love to mathematics. Laplace quit his studies in 1768 applying to study mathematics under the most famous French mathematician of his time, Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert. D’Alembert was immediately impressed by the young Laplace and ready to teach and support him.

Already three years later, Laplace taught geometry, trigonometry, analysis and statistics and published several works on game theory, probability theory and other difficult issues to improve his reputation. He was admitted to the Académie française at only 24 years. Laplace was about to become one of France’s most influential scientists and had the honor to examine the future members of the royal artillery. One of his aspirants was the 16 year old Napoleon Bonaparte, who later offered Laplace a position as his minister of the interior.

In his later career, Laplace was occupied with several governmental positions next to his studies, becoming quite wealthy. He founded the Société d’Arcueil in order to perfom experiments with fellow scientists like Alexander von Humboldt. Unfortunately, Laplace’s fame shrank through the years due to scientific and political conflicts.

However, Laplace’s scientific contributions are numerous. In the field of astronomy, he published a work titled Traité de Mécanique Céleste, a collected work of all scientific approaches after Newton. In the book series he also demonstrated the mathematical prove for the stability of planetary orbits and wrote about the possibility of black holes. This work was a great success and used and studied by every astronomer or those willing to be one. Another one of his passions was the theory of probability and took Laplace to further and further mathematical problems like the expected value, or gambling theories. Laplace developed several new mathematical methods to reach his goals like the Laplace operator, or the Laplace transform.

At yovisto, you may lean more about Laplace’s equation by watching Prof. Gilbert Strang’s video lecture at MIT 

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