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Napier, John

logarithms base

(1550–1617) Scottish mathematician: inventor of logarithms.

Napier was educated in France and at the University of St Andrews. He came from a landed family and pursued mathematics as a hobby, his other interests being religious controversy and the invention of machines of war.

His studies of imaginary roots led him to develop the principle of the logarithm, and he then spent 20 years computing tables of them (in the course of which he also developed modern decimal notation), publishing his results in 1614. His work was enthusiastically received, but the base that he had chosen was not always convenient, leading to calculate, in 1617, a table of logarithms to base 10. In the same year Napier also described a system of rods (‘Napier’s bones’) designed for practical multiplication and division. Then involved in the tedious process of calculating planetary orbits, was largely responsible for the introduction of logarithms to the continent. The Swiss J Bürgi (1552–1632) had the idea of logarithms about the same time as Napier but did not publish until 1620. Electronic calculators have now displaced ‘log tables’ and slide rules for calculation.

Narmer Palette - COMMEMORATION., COMPOSITION., FIGURE STYLE., CANON OF PROPORTIONS., HIERATIC SCALE., ICONOGRAPHY., HIEROGLYPHIC LABELS., SOURCES [next] [back] Nansen, Fridtjof

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