Friedrich Carl Gauss was born on April 30, 1777, outside of Brunswick,
Germany. He was the
only child of his parents and had a brother a few years older
than him from his father's earlier marriage.
faced many challenges in his youth being born in a poor and uneducated
family. His father
worked many stressful and unprofitable jobs, and was always striving
to meet the family’s basic needs.
Sometime between the ages of three and four, all the contributions
that Gauss made almost never happened. Young Gauss almost drowned
in a nearby canal.
few years after acquiring a house within the city limits,
Gauss’s world would be turned upside
down. It was the
French Revolution; the armies of France overtook Brunswick. Because of the war, the 1780s were a surreal time for Gauss;
the thought of ever being successful seemed to be an unrealistic
In 1784, despite the war, Gauss was able to start elementary
school. He already
possessed the ability to read and write and perform elementary
math, and that too without the help of his parents. It was apparent
that even at this early age, Gauss had the makings of a genius.
1788, Gauss left his parents after being admitted to secondary
school, however the effects of the war limited the teaching abilities
of the school. Still
Gauss took full advantage of the school and the skills he learned
proved useful in his future success.
From 1792-1795 Gauss attended school at the Collegium Carolinum,
a new science-oriented academy.
During his time his arithmetic genius increasingly became
ever more apparent. As
an example, he once found the square root in two different ways
up to fifty decimal places by expansions and interpolations.
He also formulated the principle of least squares, while
searching for regularity in the distribution of prime numbers.
Gauss entered the University of Göttingen in 1795.
While there he made many discoveries, most of which had
already been discovered.
Discouraged with mathematics and his lack of making any
true discover, Gauss was on his way to becoming a philologist.
That is until he made a discovery that declared him a mathematician.
Gauss obtained conditions for constructibility of regular
polygons and was able to announce that the regular 17-gon was
constructible by ruler and compasses.
It had been a millennium since any advancement had been
made in this matter.
Gauss’s mathematical thinking matured tremendously. Mathematical
ideas came to him so easily and frequently that he had trouble
getting them all down on paper. In 1798, Gauss returned to Brunswick,
where he lived alone and continued his intensive work.
January 1801, an astronomer had briefly observed that the new
planet named Ceres could not be located. During the rest of that
year, astronomers tried with no luck to relocate it. In September
of the same year, Gauss decided to take up the challenge. He applied
both a more accurate orbit theory (based on an ellipse rather
than the usual circular method) and improved numerical methods
(based on least squares). By December, Ceres was soon found.
This was regarded as an amazing feat, due the lack of information
and the vast distance of the planet, especially since Gauss did
not reveal his methods.
of Gauss’s discoveries were not credited to Gauss.
Gauss had high standards for his own work and would not
publish his findings without extensive proofs. When he published
his discovery of least squares, he was accused of stealing the
idea. This was because
between the time of his discovery and his publication, another
mathematician had stumbled on the idea.
Gauss never said that he had been using the method for
February 23, 1855, Gauss died in his sleep. He was 88. Gauss
made tremendous contributions to many fields of math, science
and astronomy. After
his death, Gauss’s notebook and unpublished works included work
that would have taken scientists decades of work.
Last accessed January 26, 2002, http://www.historychannel.com/
W.K., Gauss A Biographical Study. New York: Springer-Verlag
New York Inc., 1981. pp. 5-11, 15-18, 39-48.
D., Moler, C, Nash, S., Numerical Methods and Software.
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1989. pp. 212-214.