Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from U-Z

Wallis, John

algebra curious mathematician includes

(1616–1703) English mathematician: devised an expression for p as infinite series.

Wallis had a curious career. A member of a fairly wealthy family, he studied medicine and philosophy at Cambridge, was ordained in 1640 and became a private chaplain. Then in 1649 Cromwell made him professor of geometry at Oxford; his appointment was a surprise, but his work in deciphering intercepted letters for the Parliamentarians in the Civil War was probably influential. From about this time he began to meet with and others to discuss science, and these meetings led to the formation of the Royal Society in 1660, with Wallis as a founder-member. He also became a highly creative mathematician.

His book Arithmetica infinitorum (1655) made him famous; it is mainly concerned with series, theory of numbers, and conics, discusses infinities (he invented the symbol 8) and includes the curious formula for 2/p =3×3×5×5×7×7 . . . / 2×2×4×4×6×6×8×8. . . . He went on to write impressive books on mechanics and on algebra; his Treatise of Algebra (1685) includes the first graphical representation of complex numbers a + bi . His job continued after the Restoration and Charles II even made him a royal chaplain (he had always been a royalist and had joined a protest against the execution of Charles I) and he continued to decipher letters for the new government. As he wrote, he was ‘willing, whatever side was upmost, to promote . . . the public good’.

As well as being one of the century’s leading mathematicians he wrote on a variety of subjects, and had some pioneering success in teaching deaf-mutes to speak. He was remarkably quarrelsome (he maintained a public dispute with the philosopher Hobbes for over 25 years) and the contemporary biographer Aubrey claims he was a plagiarist and that he was ‘extremely greedy of glorie’.

Wallis, Sir Barnes (Neville) [next] [back] Wallace, Lila - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Lila Wallace

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or