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Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm

calculus mathematics history involved

[liyb nits] (1646–1716) German mathematician: one of the greatest polymaths in history.

The son of a Lutheran professor of moral philosophy, Leibniz developed an interest in a wide range of subjects from his father’s library. He attended the universities of Leipzig, Jena and Altdorf, where he received his doctorate in law in 1666. Leibniz was to show talent in law, religion, statecraft, history, literature and philosophy as well as mathematics.

He took up a career as a somewhat shady lawyer and diplomat, working initially for the elector of Mainz. During two trips to London in 1673 and 1676 and interested him in current work in mathematics, and in his spare moments Leibniz proceeded to make the immense discoveries of both the calculus (independently from ) and combinatorial analysis. Leibniz was at the same time much involved with establishing the legal rights of the legitimate and many illegitimate members of the household of the three electors whom he served in succession. Frequently on the move and prolifically noting his thoughts on many subjects, he was involved in diplomacy and in making plans for a French invasion of Egypt. His talents were dissipated in the sordid tasks of his master’s power-broking. He also became involved in an unsuccessful attempt to unite the Catholic and Protestant churches in 1683 and in the founding of the Berlin Academy of Sciences (1700). When his last employer, the elector of Hanover, had been steered into becoming George I of England, Leibniz was discarded and left behind to write the Brunswick family history. He died neglected, dogged by illness and in the midst of controversy over his invention of the calculus.

In mathematics Leibniz had tremendous flair. He invented a calculating machine (1672) far beyond , which could only add and subtract; Leibnitz’s could also multiply, divide and find square roots. When a young man he conceived of a universal language for logic and began the study of symbolic logic. Later came his construction of the differential and integral calculus, and a fierce priority dispute on this with ; Leibniz did his work following Newton (after 1665) but independently. The notation now used in calculus is that due to Leibniz. A minor part of his work was on infinite series, where he discovered in 1674 an amusing relation between p and all the odd numbers: p/4 = 1–1/3 + 1/5 – 1/7 + 1/9… which had earlier been found .

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