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Châtelet-Lomont, Gabrielle-Emilie, Marquise

newtonian child physics birth

(Marchioness) du , née le Tonnelier de Breteuil

[shatuhlay lohmõ] (1706–49) French writer on physics and mathematics.

The youngest child of the chief of protocol at the court of Louis XIV, Emilie de Breteuil was born into an aristocratic society that expected its women to be beautiful, intelligent and witty. As she was considered too tall (175 cm/5 ft 9 in), her father believed she would remain single and, unusually for the period, provided her with the best tutors. Her marriage (1725) survived a succession of lovers, lawsuits and separations; her husband owned a number of large estates, had a passion for war and was frequently absent. After the birth of her third child Emilie du Châtelet began serious studies in Newtonian physics with P L de Maupertuis (1698–1759) and A-C Clairaut (1713–1765). She became the mistress of Voltaire and provided him with a safe retreat at the du Châtelet estate at Cirey-sur-Blaise, where they established a laboratory. Cirey became the French centre of Newtonian science, with du Châtelet providing Voltaire with the mathematical expertise he lacked. In Institutions de physique (1740), written as a textbook for her son, she tried to reconcile Newtonian and Leibnizian views. In 1744 she began a translation of Principia mathematica , which remains a standard version. At the age of 42 she became pregnant again and, fearing that she would not survive the birth of her child, she worked long hours, taking little sleep; she died of puerperal fever. She had deposited the manuscript with the librarian of the Bibliothèque du Roi in Paris; it was published in 1759. Emilie du Châtelet’s work, which made Newtonian and Leibnizian ideas available in France, was followed by strong development of celestial mechanics there.

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