Person: Peirce, Benjamin
Benjamin Peirce was an early American mathematician who worked on celestial mechanics and geodesy on the applied side and linear associative algebra and number theory on the pure side. He has been called the "Father of pure mathematics" in America.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- This would change through Peirce's life long association with Harvard as its influence steadily increased.
- Peirce entered Harvard College in 1825 and graduated four years later.
- Bowditch's translation of the first four volumes of Laplace's Traite de mécanique céleste Ⓣ(Treatise on celestial mechanics) had been completed by 1818 but he had still not published it during the years that Peirce was an undergraduate.
- While he was an undergraduate, Peirce became involved in Bowditch's project and worked through the text doing proof-reading and suggesting improvements.
- Peirce taught at George Bancroft's Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, from 1829 to 1831, and then was appointed as a tutor at Harvard College in 1831, two years after graduating.
- Their other two sons also enjoyed successful careers, Benjamin Mills Peirce as a mining engineer and Herbert Henry Davis Peirce as a diplomat.
- It was at Harvard that Peirce spent the whole of his career from 1831.
- In the early part of his career Peirce published a number of textbooks.
- If the average student could not cope with the mathematics that Peirce was presenting them with, then he decided it was better he saw only the more talented and dedicated students continue with mathematics beyond their first year.
- After the Lawrence Scientific School was founded at Harvard in 1847, Peirce was able to teach graduate level mathematics for the first time in the United States.
- Peirce undertook research on a wide range of mathematical topics from celestial mechanics and geodesy on the applied side to linear associative algebra and number theory on the pure side.
- Only three of these volumes appeared in Bowditch's lifetime, and Peirce himself completed editing the fourth volume and saw it through publishing.
- Peirce helped determine the orbit of Neptune (discovered in 1846) and calculated the perturbations produced by Neptune on the orbit of Uranus and on the other planets.
- In 1852, Peirce introduced methods into the theory of errors applied to observations which would allow faulty observations to be discarded.
- Peirce examined the thirty downward lines in the signature and measured the angle of each.
- Perhaps it was fortunate that the case was decided on the basis of a legal formality and Peirce's evidence was not crucial in determining the outcome of the case.
- He used the, now familiar, tools of idempotent and nilpotent elements (terms invented by Peirce) to establish the foundations of a general theory of linear associative algebra and he presented multiplication tables for over 150 new algebras in the book.
- There is another side to Peirce's career which we still have to mention.
- Benjamin Peirce received many honours for his outstanding contributions to American mathematics.
- Peirce was one of a committee of five set up by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1847 to organise the Smithsonian Institution.
- Peirce was elected to the American Philosophical Society (1842), the Royal Astronomical Society (1850), and the Royal Society (1852).
Born 4 April 1809, Salem, Massachusetts, USA. Died 6 October 1880, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Usa, Number Theory, Special Numbers And Numerals
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive