Johann Karl Freidrich Gauss - Biography

A short biography of the life of Johann Karl Freidrich Gauss: the man who investigated magnetism

Johann Karl Friedrich Gauss was born in 1777 in the small town of Braunschweig, Germany.

Gauss's name is associated with the unit of magnetic flux as a result of the work he carried out in his lifetime on magnetism.

However Johann Gauss was a brilliant mathematician and it is in this area that he made some of his most significant contributions, particularly in the areas of number theory, geometry, and calculus, as well as physics and astronomy.

Early years

As a young child his brilliance soon became obvious. During his time at his elementary, the teacher asked the class to sum the numbers from 1 to 100. Rather than simply working this out Gauss generated a general formula for summing series of numbers. This was an early indication of his aptitude and he went on to study mathematics at the University of Gottingen between 1795 and 1798. Here he obtained his doctorate with the subject of his thesis being the solution of a theorem that had until then nobody had been able to provide a definitive answer.

Seven years after he graduated in October 1805, Gauss married Johanna Ostoff, and this gave Gauss the first real happiness of his life, although around this time his benefactor the Duke of Brunswick was killed fighting the Prussian army.

Two years later in 1807, Gauss left Brunswick where he had been since his graduation and took up the post at position of director of the Gottingen observatory. Here he made many discoveries in a variety of disciplines including geometry, statistics including distributions, and the physics of fluids.

However after only a year here tragedy struck as his father died in 1807. The following year his beloved wife Johanna also died after giving birth to their second son. If this was not enough the son also died shortly afterwards.

Although Gauss was devastated by this loss he remarried a year later to Johanna's best fried. Gauss and Minna had three children, but it was said that he never seemed as happy as when he was with Johanna.

Later work

In 1828 Gauss met William Weber for the first time, and then in 1831 he supported his appointment as professor of Physics at Gottingen. The following year Gauss and Weber worked together, publishing papers that were devoted to physics and the forces of attraction that existed. This work then lead on to investigations about terrestrial magnetism, publishing several papers between 1832 and 1840. One of the papers showed that there could only be two poles within the globe, and then he proceeded to develop his theories to determine the horizontal component and the angle of inclination. He also mathematically determined the location of the South Pole.

Apart from their work together on magnetism Gauss and Weber achieved much together, building an elementary telegraph, and discovering some electrical laws on top of making many measurements of the Earth's magnetic field.

Final years

As Gauss became older the amount of work and research he undertook dropped, and it was very much of a practical nature. His last recorded work of a scientific nature was in connection with a Foucalt pendulum in the year before his death. His health slowly deteriorated and Gauss died quietly in his sleep on 23rd February 1855

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