Person: Apéry, Roger
Roger Apéry was a French mathematician best known for proving that ζ(3) is an irrational number.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- It was not to be, however, for the economic downturn in France led to Georges Apéry loosing his position as an engineer.
- Roger, however, continued to show his brilliance, moving to the famous lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris.
- Because their home was not suitable for anyone to study in, Roger boarded with the monks of the École Bossuet (named after Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, a Roman Catholic bishop known for his literary works).
- One day when Apéry was not in his room, the abbot searched among his papers and found one which contained the words, "Molière, who was right not to like priests ...".
- Apéry was given a punishment detention, and from this time on he developed a dislike of priests and the Church.
- Apéry was a Concours Général laureate in 1932, coming third in mathematics in the whole of France in the junior competition.
- This was to have consequences for his academic career for, despite a brilliant performance in mathematics, Apéry was not ranked sufficiently highly to gain entry to the École Normale Supérieure in 1935.
- This prompted Apéry, who was still an undergraduate, to resign from the Radical Party in protest.
- Apéry would continue as a staunch socialist but outside the mainstream parties.
- The other candidate who came first equal with Apéry was Jacqueline Ferrand, better known by the name she adopted after her marriage, Jacqueline Lelong-Ferrand.
- Those two were by Roger Apéry and Jacqueline Ferrand.
- Apéry was already undertaking research and published Sur les sextiques à 8 rebroussements Ⓣ(On sextics with 8 cusps) (1939).
- Apéry was drafted into the French army on 16 September 1939.
- In February 1940 Apéry was promoted to sublieutenant in the 145th Artillery and sent to Nancy.
- The Germans overcame the French at Nancy and, on 20 June, Apéry was captured and became a prisoner-of-war.
- Apéry, however, was held as a prisoner in Germany where, through the Red Cross, he was able to receive a number of mathematical articles sent by Francesco Severi.
- Since he was suffering from pleurisy, Apéry was sent back to France for health reasons on 11 June 1941.
- Apéry was very active in the French Resistance being director of the Front National, a resistance movement at the École Normale Supérieure, as well as forging identity papers in his room and undertaking other highly dangerous activities.
- In August 1944 the Gestapo searched the École Normale Supérieure and Apéry, realising what was happening, burnt the incriminating papers he had been forging in his room.
- Returning to Apéry's career, he was invited to give the prestigious Cours Peccot at the Collège de France in 1948; he spoke on "Algebraic geometry and ideals".
- Apéry became a staunch supporter of Pierre Mendès-France, the radical socialist who was premier of France in 1954.
- Mendès-France opposed both the Communists and the followers of Charles de Gaulle, and Apéry gave him his full support.
- In 1958 Apéry became president of the Calvados district of the Parti républicain radical.
- In 1969 de Gaulle was defeated and Apéry resigned from the Radical Party feeling that the French Republic was no longer threatened.
- Let us now look at Apéry's mathematical contributions.
- For a variety of reasons, mathematicians doubted that Apéry's proof would be correct when it was first announced.
- The problem had long been an open question, yet Apéry's proof only used methods which had been available for 200 years.
- Another possible factor is that it appears that Apéry was not popular with his colleagues.
- We came away convinced that Professor Apéry had indeed found a quite miraculous and magnificent demonstration of the irrationality of ζ(3).
- (Apéry rather tartly pointed out to me in Helsinki that he regarded this more a compliment than a criticism of his method).
- Apéry then made some remarks on the status of the French language, and alluded to the underlying motivation for his astonishing proof.
- It is some measure of Apéry's achievement that these questions have been considered by mathematicians of the top rank over the past few centuries without much success being achieved.
- Apéry's incredible proof appears to be a mixture of miracles and mysteries.
- Most startling of all though should be the fact that Apéry's proof has no aspect that would not have been accessible to a mathematician of 200 years ago.
- It was not long before the full validity of Apéry's work was confirmed and the sceptics were forced to eat their words.
- Apéry was honoured by being made a Knight of the Légion d'Honneur in December 1970.
Born 14 November 1916, Rouen, France. Died 18 December 1994, Caen, France.
View full biography at MacTutor
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive