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Best all time mathematicians/physicists.

  1. Nov 21, 2004 #1
    Who you think are the best mathematicians/physicists of all time? (the first five)

    1. Einstein
    2. Gauss
    3. Newton
    4. Euler
    5. Archimides (I dont know how to write it in English)
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2004 #2
    in no particular order, here are some that come to mind off the top of my head:
    - Hilbert
    - Euler
    - Erdos
    - Gauss
    - Archimedes
    - Galois

    i don't think i know enough physics to have an opinion about physicists. i guess you could go through the list of nobel prize winners to find a bunch of the best ever.
  4. Nov 21, 2004 #3
    I can go ahead and tell you that Riemann is my favorite mathematican. Gauss and Newton come at a pretty close second.
  5. Nov 21, 2004 #4
    ... oh yeah, I'll add Fourier also :biggrin:
  6. Nov 22, 2004 #5
    Euler, Riemann, Cauchy, Leibniz and al-Khawarizmi are my favorite 5 (in no particular order).
  7. Nov 22, 2004 #6
    Where's the love for ramanujan?
  8. Nov 22, 2004 #7

    James R

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    Einstein, Gauss, Newton, Galileo, ...

    Hard to pick number 5.
  9. Nov 22, 2004 #8
    Einstein, Euler, Gauss, Newton...
  10. Nov 22, 2004 #9
    Funny you should say that. I was thinking of adding him in as I was just coming to this post.
  11. Nov 23, 2004 #10


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    Riemann is my favorite, but that is possibly because I have read his works and thus know more about what he did, and hence am more impressed by it. I also agree on Gauss, Archimedes, Hilbert and Euler, having some familiarity with some of their works.

    Galois was a genius, and gave a beautiful solution to a fascinating problem, and his life was very romantic, but the theory he created is arguably not tremendously important in mathematics. His lesser known but to me more important work, on abelian integrals, anticipated Riemann, and it is a tragedy that he did not live to fulfill his enormous scientific potential.

    Anyone who would list Erdos in such a group, might well be asked to define what he means by "best". Certainly Erdos inspired a large number of young mathematicians to work on his problems, most of them elementary to state, and of somewhat specialized interest. Many of them were of course relatively trivial, but some were very difficult, and have truly inspired some wonderfully talented young mathematicians. I would say his work is somewhat unimportant, but his life gave a generous impetus to mathematics.

    It is also puzzling to me to see a list such as "Einstein, Gauss, Newton, Galileo", followed by "can't think of a 5th", when Archimedes' mathematical works seem to contain Galileos' as a small subset, and precedes it by many hundreds of years.

    I.e. Galileo's great work, "On two new sciences" comprises 1) strength of materials, and 2) the science of motion. His main results in the science of motion are easy corollaries of the methods of Archimedes for finding areas under parabolas.

    Of course one can discuss endlessly such opinions, since we are all underqualified to judge such a question. Still it might be of interest for people to offer a hint of why they chose their candidates.

    As to my choice of Riemann, Gauss himself praised Riemann's "gloriously fertile originality". Riemann began the now huge subject of algebraic geometry, by applying the methods of complex analysis and topology, which he essentially invented for the purpose, to the study of plane curves. He invented complex analysis on non planar surfaces, and proved the analog of the Mittag Leffler theorem for these new objects, his famous Riemann Roch theorem. His results on abelian integrals and abelian functions are among the most beautiful in all of mathematics, and have led to scores of years of study and generalization, including work by the amazing Grothendieck. Riemann introduced the idea of clasifyuing all geometric objectys of a given type by poiints of a geometric object tiself of the same kind, the powerful idea of "moduli", still an enormous field of study in many areas.

    In another related arena, differential geometry, Riemann invented the study of higher dimensional space, and differential calculus on manifolds, generalizing ideas of Gauss from 2 dimensions to all dimensions. He invented the curvature tensor, a subject of great interest in these pages, and provided the mathematical foundations for Einstein's formulation of gravity in space.

    In topology, invented by him to study algebraic curves over the complex numbers, he introduced the concepts of homology of curves, via the genus, as the minimum number of "loop cuts" that render a compact surface planar.

    In number theory, he achieved perhaps his greatest general fame by his application of complex analysis to the study of prime numbers, introducing the zeta function to count primes, and making a simple conjecture still unpoproven to this day, and yet of enormous interest and application, the Riemann hypothesis, that all "non trivial" zeroes of the zeta function lie on the line Re(z) = 1/2.

    By the way, I think Grothendieck deserves a place on some of these lists, if one is willing to include 20th century mathematicians. He singlehandedly revolutionized the subject of algebraic geometry and number theory, marrying them forever as previous generations had merely dreamed of doing. Andre Weil is very worthy of mention as well, and others.
  12. Nov 24, 2004 #11


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    " Archimedes' mathematical works seem to contain Galileos' as a small subset, and precedes it by many hundreds of years."

    This statement, by itself, shows where Archimedes should be placed on ANY list of mathematicians (and, for that matter, physicists):
    At the very TOP.

    There are no one beside him, and, unfortunately, never will be.
    We'll have to make do with Newtons, Einsteins, Gausss and suchlike..
  13. Nov 24, 2004 #12
    Aristarchus...Copernicus basically took over his ideas on planetary motion and the heliocentric modell.

    I would name Ptolemaeus as the worst physicist ever...
    Gauss is the best mathematician...

  14. Nov 24, 2004 #13


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    "I would name Ptolemaeus as the worst physicist ever..."
    Good heavens, why?

    Please note that his choice of a geocentric model over a heliocentric model was NOT based on respect for the Gods (or some such idea), but on a rational (but fallacious) argument:
    Namely, that if the earth moved relative to the background, we would experience a perpetual wind.
    It is only when the atmosphere is seen as co-moving with the earth that this argument loses its power.
    This, however, is a result of a theory of gravitation&air, in which the matter comprising the air follows the earth due to gravitation.

    To castigate Ptolemy for not reaching the insights of Galileo&Newton a thousand years earlier, is rather churlish..IMO.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2004
  15. Nov 24, 2004 #14
    "In over six decades of furious activity, he wrote fundamental papers on number theory, real analysis, geometry, probability theory, complex analysis, approximation theory, set theory and combinatorics, among other areas. His first great love was number theory, while in his later years he worked mostly in combinatorics. In 1966, with Selfridge, he solved a notorious problem in number theory that had been open for over 100 years, namely that the product of consecutive positive integers (like 4·5·6·7·8) is never an exact square, cube or any higher power. With Rado and Hajnal, he founded partition calculus, a branch of set theory, which is a detailed study of the relative sizes of large infinite sets. Nevertheless, he will be best remembered for his contributions to combinatorics, an area of mathematics fundamental to computer science. He founded extremal graph theory, his theorem with Stone being of prime importance, and with Rényi he started probabilistic graph theory..."
    + the prime number theorem, and all the problems he left behind

    http://www.ams.org/new-in-math/erdosobit.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  16. Nov 25, 2004 #15
    What about Godel?
  17. Nov 25, 2004 #16
    yeah godel did some good stuff, from what I've read anyway (which isn't a lot)

    i've got a related questions for everybody; who is the most underrated mathematician there ever was? by that I mean who are some "unsung heros?"
  18. Nov 25, 2004 #17
    look at the work of Aristarchus,...this is my whole point

  19. Nov 25, 2004 #18


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    That would depend upon whether Aristarchus provided an acceptable argument against the perpetual wind objection.
    I don't know if he did, perhaps you know about that?
  20. Nov 25, 2004 #19


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    It depends on what area of mathematics you are into. This changes everything.
  21. Nov 25, 2004 #20


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    I know Richard Feynman is more "new school", but would y'all consider him one of the greatest of all-time?
  22. Nov 25, 2004 #21


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    I have a few arguments:

    Galileo is an idiot for not leaving Italy.
    Keppler is an idiot for not collaborating with Galileo.
    Newton is an idiot for being an arrogant prick.
    Gauss is an idiot for being an anti-social/arrogant prick.
    Archimedes is an idiot for refusing to follow a soldiers orders.

    You can go on and find false with all of them. A lot of times the problem with these special people also took part as "slowing" down physics and mathematics.

    What about all the idiots refusing to use Arabic Numbers?

    History is full of idiots.
  23. Nov 25, 2004 #22
    Gauss and Feynman would be my favorites for maths/physics. While the first one is rather obvious (maybe not as THE best mathematical but certainly as a very successful one), Feynman would be there just out of a personal feeling and my respect for the Feynman graphs which brought the description of physical processes from pure formula description to another "level". Many people don´t even know that those pictures are just a term in an equation.
  24. Nov 25, 2004 #23


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    I thought about this and if I had to pick I would choose -

    Isaac Asimov

    I like him best because he got me into all of this. I read one of his non-fiction books and I got hooked onto science, which then lead me to math.

    Probably didn't do anything great, but he sure did something for me.
  25. Nov 25, 2004 #24
    How could I ever forget the man who got me into physics and math - the great Michio Kaku.
  26. Nov 25, 2004 #25
    Are we talking about our favourite mathematicians/physicists or best mathematicians/physicists?

    Richard Feynman was surely a very good teacher and also made some important contributions but i wouldnt consider him one of the best.

    And about unsung heros, there are many ancient indian texts found which show that calculus was known long before archimedes,newton and leibniz.
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