A Biography of Leonhard Euler

Great Swiss Mathematician and Physicist

Euler produced more work and of high quality than any other mathematician in history. His contemporaries dubbed him “Analysis Incarnate.”

Leonhard Euler (1707 – 1783) — his surname pronounced “oiler” — was a mathematician and physicist, born in Basel, Switzerland. Euler is considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.

Euler’s father was a minister of religion and intended for his son to follow his footsteps and enter the church. Fortunately, his father also had a liking for mathematics and stirred an interest in the subject in his son.

Euler’s Early Life and Education

Soon after his birth, the family moved to the town of Riehen, where Leonhard spent most of his childhood. He was sent to live with his maternal grandmother and attend University of Basel, where he matriculated at age thirteen.

Euler continued at the University to study theology and obtained his Doctorate at age seventeen. Around this time, he managed to obtain lessons in mathematics from the brilliant scientist Johann Bernoulli who noticed his incredible mathematical ability. Euler’s father gave in when Bernoulli told him his son was destined to be a great mathematician.

Euler’s Career and Achievements

In 1927, Euler obtained a post at the St Petersburg Academy in Russia where the Russian rulers encouraged men of learning. Euler produced a vast amount of mathematical material; in fact, he produced an average of 800 pages of new mathematics per year over a career spanning six decades. Leonhard Euler won the Paris Academy Prize no less than twelve times.

Euler had the advantage of being able to use the work already invented by Newton, Leibnitz and Descartes and this enabled him to extend a great deal of knowledge in mathematics and physics. Notably in the following fields:

  • Calculus
  • Graph Theory
  • Mechanics, Fluid dynamics
  • Optics, Astronomy

He completed calculations explaining the movement of the moon and solved equations concerned with machines.

Euler’s Family Life

Whilst in Russia, Euler married Catharina, the daughter of a painter; they had thirteen children, all but five of whom died when very young. Like other mathematical geniuses, Euler had a tremendous memory and the ability to concentrate and think with all the distractions of a noisy household around him.

In 1773, he lost his wife of 40 years. Three years later, he married his half-sister, Salome Abigail Gsell — a marriage that would last until his death.

Euler’s Later Life

In 1740, Leonhard accepted the invitation of Frederick the Great of Prussia to join the Berlin Academy. The next twenty-four years of his life were spent in Berlin where he built a reputation as one of the greatest mathematicians of his time.

At age 59, Euler packed up and returned to Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great. His sight now began to deteriorate and before long he was completely blind, yet he continued to produce mathematics of great quality until his death at age seventy-six.

Leonhard Euler Recognition

Euler was featured on the sixth series of the Swiss 10-franc banknote and on numerous Swiss, German, and Russian postage stamps.

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