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Mini Math Bio – Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss
Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (April 30, 1777 – February 23, 1855) was a German mathematician who well deserved his nickname, the “Prince of Mathematicians”.
Today, Gauss is best known for his famous probability curve, aka the “Gauss curve”, which expresses the distribution of the probability of all outcomes of random events. Known as a child prodigy, Gauss was only 21 when he wrote his mathematical masterpiece, “Disquisitiones Arithmeticae”. He was famous for calculating the logarithms of numbers in his head, without using a logarithm table.
Here’s a great story about how Gauss shocked his teacher one day when he was in elementary school…
In order to keep the students busy while he was away, the teacher told the class to add all the whole numbers between 1 and 100.
But Gauss blurted out the correct result, 5050, before the professor even had a chance to leave the room! Incredulous that one of his students could add 100 numbers in seconds, he challenged Gauss to explain how he did it.
The answer was actually very simple, if you had the genius of Gauss to figure it out in the first place…
Gauss added pairs of numbers from opposite ends of the number spectrum and they always added up to 101, as in 100+1, 99+2, 98+3, …, 3+98, 2+99, 1+100 . And he thought there were 100 such pairs (there are 100 integers between 1 and 100). So he multiplied 100 by 101. However, with this method, whole numbers between 1 and 100 are added twice. He therefore divides the addition by two and presto! 5050 was the answer. Isn’t math sweet?
As smart as he was, Gauss was also incredibly dedicated to his job. According to the famous science writer Isaac Asimov, when told that his wife was dying, Gauss was in the middle of a problem. So he reportedly said, “Tell her to wait a while until I’m done!” As cruel as it sounds, the anecdote also reflects a legendary mathematician’s superhuman focus on the work he so passionately loved.
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