mercredi 24 février 2016

The Prince of theorems

On the pavement of the square Jean Jaures in the nearby city of Castres is a tombstone bearing a name all students have heard about during one of their mathematics course: Pierre de Fermat.

Pierre de Fermat was born in the first decade of the 17th century close to Montauban, France (in 1601 or 1607) and died in Castres on 12 January 1665. He was a lawyer at the Parliament of Toulouse, France, and a mathematician who is given credit for early developments that led to infinitesimal calculus. In particular, he is recognized for his discovery of an original method of finding the greatest and the smallest ordinates of curved lines, which is analogous to that of the differential calculus, then unknown. He made notable contributions to analytic geometry, probability and optics.
Polymath, Fermat was Fluent in six languages: French, Latin, Occitan, classical Greek, Italian, and Spanish. He devoted his life to his work as a lawyer in the specific Chambre de l’Édit, settled in Castres. This Chambre contained the same number of Protestant and Catholic magistrates to ensure impartial justice in all cases involving Huguenots. That new Chamber was created following the Edict of Nantes which provided between 1598 and 1685 many rights to the Calvinist Protestants of France, including the right to bring grievances directly to the king. 
Nowadays, Fermat is best known for Fermat's Last Theorem, which he described in a note at the margin of a copy of Diophantus' Arithmetica.
Andrew Wiles, a British mathematician and a Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Oxford, states that he came across Fermat's Last Theorem on his way home from school when he was 10 years old. He stopped by his local library where he found a book about the theorem. Fascinated by the existence of a theorem that was so easy to state that he, a ten-year-old, could understand it, but nobody had proven it, he decided to be the first person to prove it. However, he soon realised that his knowledge was too limited, so he abandoned his childhood dream, for a while... But he went on working on it during decades and his proof was finally acknowledged in 1995. Older than forty years at that time, he could not be granted the Fields Medal but received many distinctions for finding this graal.

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