22 Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions

One thing I love about Mathematics is that it is a universal language used in all areas of life, from engineering to cooking. Maths has been studied for centuries by some of the world’s most brilliant minds.

Even though teaching and learning Math might seem like a daunting task, I believe maths is one the most fascinating subject to teach and learn. An excellent way to make mathematics exciting is to look at the wisdom of some of history’s most famous mathematicians, so we can gain insight into how we can best approach math education today.

Generally, to inspire and help my students gain a better understanding of mathematics, I discuss famous mathematicians and their contributions to mathematics that have helped shape our modern world.

You might also enjoy reading: What Jobs Can You Get With a Mathematics Degree: 9 Best Options!

1- Leonhard Euler (1707 – 1783)

Leonhard Euler is one of the most influential mathematicians in history; Euler is considered the master of modern mathematics. He made great advances in calculus and number theory, as well as introducing mathematical notation such as e (Euler’s constant) and i (the imaginary unit).

His work laid the foundation for many important branches of mathematics today, including graph theory, differential equations, mechanics, and analytical geometry.

Perhaps Leonhard Euler’s greatest contribution was his ability to bridge pure mathematics with its applications in physics.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Leonhard Euler

2- Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

Sir Isaac Newton dedicated his life to researching scientific methods, calculus, physics, and, more importantly, universal gravitation. His dedication gave birth to Newton’s Law of Physics, one of science’s most known and valuable concepts.

Isaac Newton was the first to decompose white light into its component colors and provided us with the three laws of motion, now referred to as Newton’s laws. 

Newton’s Law of Physics is known to be universal, which means that the same force of gravity that causes fruits to accelerate as they fall is the same force that keeps the moon going around the earth.

Newton’s first law says that every object will stay at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless forced to alter its state by the action of an external force (Source: NASA)

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Isaac Newton

3- Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)

Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist who contributed to various areas of mathematics.

Blaise Pascal is widely known for Pascal’s triangle. He invented the unit of atmospheric pressure, Pascal (Pa), named in his honor.

Pascal, one of the most widely utilized languages for programming instruction, was named after Blaise Pascal (Source: the University of Missouri)

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Blaise Pascal

5- James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879)

James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish mathematician best known for formulating electromagnetic theory.

Most modern mathematicians and physicists regard him as the scientist of the 19th century with the most significant influence on 20th-century mathematics and physics, along with Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. 

The work of James Clerk Maxwell paved the way for the world’s first colored photograph. James Maxwell connected electromagnetism and light through his life’s work, which has been one of physics’ greatest accomplishments.

James_Clerk_Maxwell
James_Clerk_Maxwell via Wikimedia Commons

6- Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749 – 1827)

Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace was a French mathematician, astronomer, and physicist best known for studying the solar system’s stability.

In 1796 Laplace published his “Exposition du système du Monde,” a popular work depicting the current state of cosmological thought and introducing Laplace’s “nebular hypothesis,” (Source: National Center for Atmospheric Research)

By applying Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation to the solar system, Laplace successfully developed a conceptual view of evolutionary change in the solar system’s structure. He also proved the effectiveness of probability in interpreting scientific data.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Pierre Simon de Laplace

7- Thomas Bayes (1702 – 1761)

Thomas Bayes was an English mathematician who was the first to apply probability inductively.

Thomas Bayes discover a mathematical basis for probability inference, a way of calculating the frequency with which an event has occurred in prior trials. 

Thomas Bayes laid the groundwork for one of the most important predictions in the world. Bayes’ Theorem provides a way for computation through conditional probabilities. 

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Thomas Bayes via Wikimedia Commons

8- Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871)

Charles Babbage was an English mathematician and inventor who conceived the first automatic digital computer.

Charles Babbage’s invention, the Difference Engine No.1, was the first successful automatic calculator and is still one of the best examples of precision engineering (Source: University of Minnesota)

With Charles Babbage’s vision, we would still be using pens to write 100-page essays and research.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Charles Babbage

9- Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887 – 1920)

Srinivasa Ramanujan was an Indian mathematician who significantly contributed to the theory of numbers, including pioneering findings on the properties of the partition function. This self-taught Indian mathematician made major contributions to number theory and infinite series expansions.

While he only received recognition late in his career due to poverty, his discoveries led him to be recognized as one of the most influential mathematicians in history. His work on partition numbers—the number of ways an integer can be expressed as sums of positive integers—has had far-reaching implications in multiple fields.

His famous “Lost Notebook” contains 4000 results he had discovered without proof but which were later verified after extensive study by other mathematicians.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Srinivasa Ramanujan via Wikimedia Commons

10- Alan Turing (1912 – 1954)

Alan Turing was a British mathematician and cryptanalyst who is perhaps best known for his pivotal role during World War II in cracking German codes through the use of the Enigma machine; however, he also made significant contributions to computing science that even today hold up with modern computers.

He proposed what is now known as the Turing Machine, a model consisting of an infinitely long tape divided into cells filled with symbols that can be read or written over time, which laid the foundations for theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence research today.    

Alan Turing was well-known for his creative approach to problem-solving and his refusal to accept conventional wisdom. He believed that it was important for students to be encouraged to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions when tackling mathematical problems. He argued that creativity should not only be valued but actively encouraged in the classroom.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Alan Turing via Wikimedia Commons

11- Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)

Ada Lovelace Another renowned mathematician, Ada Lovelace, had an interesting perspective on failure. She believed that anyone who has never failed while attempting a difficult problem hasn’t really tried hard enough.

According to Ada Lovelace, true learning comes from making mistakes and learning from them rather than always succeeding on the first try.

Her words are particularly applicable in math education today, where many students are afraid to make mistakes and become discouraged when they do so.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Ada Lovelace via Wikimedia Commons

12- Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 – 1855) 

Carl Friedrich Gauss was a German mathematician, also known as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, for his contributions to geometry, number theory, astronomy, probability theory, geodesy, planetary, and the theory of functions. 

Thanks to Carl Friedrich Gauss, the Gaussian distribution, also known as the bell-curve normal distribution, is a central and crucial element for modern statistics.

Carl Friedrich Gauss let us consider what Carl Friedrich Gauss said about mastering mathematics.

It is not knowledge but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment.

What he meant by this is that true mastery of any subject comes through practice and repetition rather than memorization or rote learning.

This is especially relevant in math education today, where students often need extra time and guidance in order to develop their skills properly.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
 Carl Friedrich Gauss via Wikimedia Commons

13- David Hilbert (1862 – 1943)

David Hilbert was a German mathematician who transformed geometry into a series of axioms and contributed substantially to establishing the formalistic foundations of mathematics.

David Hilbert proved the theorem of invariants, which means that all invariants can be expressed in terms of a finite number.

In 1900, Hilbert developed a collection of unsolved problems, which became the 20th-century syllabus for the field of mathematics. Hilbert’s collection of problems has been inspirational to many young mathematicians.

Additionally, David Hilbert’s work in 1909 on integral equations gave birth to 20th-century research in functional analysis.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
David Hilbert via Wikimedia Commons

14- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 – 1716) 

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German mathematician, philosopher, and political adviser, influential both as a metaphysician and a logician. He was also distinguished for his independent invention of differential and integral calculus.

Perhaps never has a man read as much, studied as much, meditated more, and written more than Leibniz, according to Denis Diderot (Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Leibniz is known to be a notorious optimist, seeing the best in everything (Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

15- Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1736 – 1813)

Joseph-Louis Lagrange was an Italian French mathematician who significantly contributed to number theory and analytic and celestial mechanics. 

Lagrange invented the calculus of variations, which derived the Euler–Lagrange equations for the extrema of functionals.

Also, Lagrange developed this method to include possible constraints, leading to Lagrange multipliers. Lagrange created the method of solving differential equations, also referred to as a variation of parameters, and proved that every natural number is a sum of four squares.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Joseph Louis Lagrange via Wikimedia Commons

16- Euclid of Alexandria (300 BCE)

Euclid of Alexandria was one of the most distinguished mathematicians of Greco-Roman antiquity.

Euclid’s books laid the foundation for modern mathematics, including Euclidean Geometry and elementary mathematics. Also, Euclid was the very first mathematician to formalize mathematical proofs properly. 

Euclid of Alexandria is famous for Euclid’s Elements, a book that was a compilation of knowledge that became the base of mathematical teaching for 2000 years.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Euclid of Alexandria via Wikimedia Commons

17- Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (c. 780 – 850)

Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī was a Muslim mathematician and astronomer whose major works introduced the concepts of algebra.

Indeed, the word “algebra” comes from part of the title of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi‘s book on solving equations, and the word “algorithm,” which means a systematic set of rules used to solve a problem, derives from al-Khwarizmi’s name.

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi is famously known for developing formal, systematic ways of performing arithmetic and solving equations. Al-Khwarizmi also devised systems of rules for solving basic equations, such as 4x + 8 = 2. 

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi

18- Pythagoras (ca. 570 – ca. 490 BCE)

Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the Pythagorean brotherhood that, although religious, developed principles that influenced the thought of Aristotle and Plato and led to the development of mathematics and Western rational philosophy. 

Pythagoras was one of the most famous and controversial ancient Greek philosophers who lived from ca. 570 to ca. 490 BCE (Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

We learned or taught Pythagoras’s Theorem or Pythagorean theorem, which describes the fundamental relation in Euclidean geometry between the three sides of a right triangle.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Phythagoras via Wikimedia Commons

19- John von Neumann (1903 – 1957)

John von Neumann was a Hungarian-born American mathematician. He inspired the areas of pure and applied mathematics, economics, computer science, and physics (Source: Institute for Advanced Study)

Additionally, John Von Neumann was considered a pioneer in applying operator theory to quantum mechanics in the development of functional analysis.

John von Neumann is famously known for his early development of computers and made essential contributions to mathematical logic, the foundations of quantum mechanics, economics, and game theory (Source: American Mathematical Society)

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
John von Neumann via Wikimedia Commons

20- Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020)

Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician who calculated and studied the flight paths of many spacecraft during her U.S. space program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Katherine Johnson significantly contributed to helping send astronauts to the Moon.

Katherine Johnson’s work was instrumental in the first U.S. space flights, which paved the way for many trips to space through the years.

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Katherine Johnson via Wikimedia Commons

21- Sophie Germain (1776 – 1831)

Sophie Germain was a French mathematician who contributed notably to studying elasticity, acoustics, and the theory of numbers.

Sophie Germain contributes to elasticity theory through her first mathematical treatment of the resonance nodes of vibrating membranes. 

Interestingly, Sophie Germain chose to study mathematics to isolate herself from mounting social unrest and political revolution (Source: Cambridge University)

Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Sophie Germain via Wikimedia Commons

22- Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630)

Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer who discovered three fundamental laws of planetary motion, conventionally designated as follows:

  1. The planets move in elliptic orbits with the Sun at one focus.
  2. The “area law: The time necessary to cross any arc of a planetary orbit is proportionate to the area of the sector between that arc and the central body.
  3. The harmonic law: An exact relationship exists between the squares of periodic times of the planets and the cubes of their mean distances from the Sun. 
Famous Mathematicians and Their Contributions
Johannes Kepler Kopie eines verlorengegangenen Originals von 1610 via Wikimedia Commons

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Wrapping Up

Math can be an intimidating subject for many people, but it doesn’t have to be. By reflecting on some of history’s most famous mathematicians and their contributions when teaching math today, teachers can help foster a more positive attitude toward mathematics in their students.

Whether it is Leonhard Euler’s advancements in calculus or Alan Turing’s pioneering work on computing science, these famous mathematicians have provided us with invaluable lessons on how mathematics can be applied both practically and theoretically to various aspects of life.

By looking back at their great accomplishments, I believe we can gain a greater appreciation for math while striving to reach new heights ourselves.

Altiné

I am Altiné. I am the guy behind mathodics.com. When I am not teaching math, you can find me reading, running, biking, or doing anything that allows me to enjoy nature's beauty. I hope you find what you are looking for while visiting mathodics.com.

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