Person: Adrain, Robert
Robert Adrain was an Irishman who was one of the first mathematicians to work in America.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- When Adrain was about fifteen years of age both his parents died.
- Adrain received a good education but this education did not include any mathematics beyond arithmetic.
- By 1798 Adrain, a young man of 22, had established himself sufficiently well financially to allow him to marry Ann Pollock.
- The United Irishmen provoked a rebellion in May 1798 and Adrain joined the rebels as an officer in their army.
- The rebellion was unsuccessful in general, but particularly so for Adrain who was shot in the back by one of his own men and badly wounded.
- In York Adrain became Principal of York County Academy.
- When the first mathematics journal, the Mathematical Correspondent, began publishing in 1804 under the editorship of George Baron, Adrain became one of its main contributors.
- After arriving in Reading, Adrain continued to publish in the Mathematical Correspondent and, in 1807, he became editor of the journal.
- One has to understand that publishing a mathematics journal in the United States at this time was not an easy task since there were only two mathematicians capable of work of international standing in the whole country, namely Adrain and Nathaniel Bowditch.
- Despite these problems, Adrain decided to try publishing his own mathematics journal after he had edited only one volume of the Mathematical Correspondent and, in 1808, he began editing his journal the Analyst or Mathematical Museum.
- After the journal ceased publication, Adrain was appointed professor of mathematics at Queen's College (now Rutgers University) New Brunswick where he worked from 1809 to 1813.
- Despite Queen's College trying its best to keep him there, Adrain moved to Columbia College in New York in 1813.
- In 1825, while he was still on the staff at Columbia College, Adrain made another attempt at publishing a mathematical journal.
- This was a lower level publication which continued under the editorship of James Ryan when Adrain left Columbia College in 1826.
- Adrain returned to Rutgers College (Queen's College was renamed Rutgers College in 1825 after the philanthropist Henry Rutgers) in 1826.
- Because the faculty saw no way to aid Adrain and feared that the disturbances would spread to other classes, the university asked for Adrain's resignation.
- Having tended his resignation as requested, Adrain returned to New Brunswick where he earned his living tutoring privately until 1836 when again he went to New York, teaching at the Grammar School attached to Columbia College.
- Despite the resignation episode which resulted from Adrain's impatience in the classroom, he had a reputation for being patient and helpful at all other times.
- It was in 1808 that Robert Patterson proposed a surveying problem in the Analyst and, after comments from Bowditch suggesting two procedures, Adrain gave an argument to establish the validity of the normal distribution for the errors, and he then used it to prove the validity of the method of least squares.
- Taking a number of problems as examples, Adrain showed that one of Bowditch's procedures was equivalent to using the method of least squares.
- It is unfortunate that despite Adrain's priority over Gauss, it is the latter who has received the credit for this important statistical contribution.
- Other topics which Adrain wrote about include a study of the catenary, and other curves which he called isotomous.
- Adrain's improvement on Laplace's value was, of course, made because Adrain had been inspired to work on the topic because of the contributions of Laplace.
- We would know more about Adrain's work today but for an unfortunate incident concerning M J Babb of the University of Pennsylvania.
- Babb was working on Adrain's manuscripts at the time of his death in 1945 and it appears that both Babb's work and the manuscripts of Adrain on which he was working were inadvertently destroyed after his death.
Born 30 September 1775, Carrickfergus, Ireland. Died 10 August 1843, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive