Portrait of Lenhard Euler

Lenhard Euler (1707-1783)

The greatest mathematician of the eighteenth century, Lenhard Euler was born in Basel, Switzerland. There, he studied under another giant of mathematics, Jean Bernoulli. In 1731 Euler became a professor of physics and mathematics at St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Euler was the most prolific mathematician of all time, publishing over 800 different books and papers. His influence was felt in physics and astronomy as well. Euler's work on mathematical analysis, Introduction in analysis infinitum (1748) remained a standard textbook for well over a century. For the princess of Anhalt-Dessau he wrote Letters à une princesse d'Allemagne (1768-1772), giving a clear non-technical outline of the main physical theories of the time.

One can hardly do math without copying Euler. Notations still in use today, such as e and π, were introduced in Euler's writings. He is perhaps best known for his research into mathematical analysis. Euler's formula

cos(x) + isin(x) = e(ix)

demonstrates the relationship between algebra, complex analysis, and trigonometry. From this equation, it's easy to derive the equation

ei) + 1 = 0

which relates the fundamental constants: 0, 1, π, e, and i in a single beautiful and elegant statement.

Lenhard Euler died in 1783, leaving behind a legacy perhaps unmatched, and certainly unsurpassed, in the annals of mathematics.


Math 895: The History of Mathatics