Author

Christiaan Huygens cover

photo credits: CC-PD-Mark

Christiaan Huygens

Dutch mathematician and natural philosopher

1629   -   1695

country of citizenship: Dutch Republic
educated at: Leiden University
occupation: astronomer, mathematician, physicist, musicologist, inventor, music theorist, theoretical physicist, entomologist

Christiaan Huygens ( HY-gənz, HOY-; Dutch: [ˈɦœyɣə(n)s] (listen); Latin: Hugenius; 14 April 1629 – 8 July 1695) was a Dutch physicist, mathematician, astronomer and inventor, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time and a major figure in the scientific revolution. In physics, Huygens made groundbreaking contributions in optics and mechanics, while as an astronomer he is chiefly known for his studies of the rings of Saturn and the discovery of its moon Titan. As an inventor, he improved the design of the telescope with the invention of the Huygenian eyepiece. His most famous invention, however, was the invention of the pendulum clock in 1656, which was a breakthrough in timekeeping and became the most accurate timekeeper for almost 300 years. Because he was the first to use mathematical formulae to describe the laws of physics, Huygens has been called the first theoretical physicist and the founder of mathematical physics.In 1659, Huygens was the first to derive the now standard formula for the centripetal force in his work De vi centrifuga. The formula played a central role in classical mechanics . Huygens was also the first to formulate the correct laws of elastic collision in his work De motu corporum ex percussione, but his findings were not published until 1703, after his death. In the field of optics, he is best known for his wave theory of light, which he proposed in 1678 and described in 1690 in his Treatise on Light, which is regarded as the first mathematical theory of light. His theory was initially rejected in favor of Isaac Newton's corpuscular theory of light, until Augustin-Jean Fresnel adopted Huygens' principle in 1818 and showed that it could explain the rectilinear propagation and diffraction effects of light. Today this principle is known as the Huygens–Fresnel principle. Huygens invented the pendulum clock in 1656, which he patented the following year. In addition to this invention, his research in horology resulted in an extensive analysis of the pendulum in his 1673 book Horologium Oscillatorium, which is regarded as one of the most important 17th-century works in mechanics. While the first part of the book contains descriptions of clock designs, most of the book is an analysis of pendulum motion and a theory of curves. In 1655, Huygens began grinding lenses with his brother Constantijn in order to build telescopes to conduct astronomical research. He designed a 50-power refracting telescope with which he discovered that the ring of Saturn was "a thin, flat ring, nowhere touching, and inclined to the ecliptic." It was with this telescope that he also discovered the first of Saturn's moons, Titan. He eventually developed in 1662 what is now called the Huygenian eyepiece, a telescope with two lenses, which diminished the amount of dispersion. As a mathematician, Huygens was a pioneer on probability and wrote his first treatise on probability theory in 1657 with the work Van Rekeningh in Spelen van Gluck. Frans van Schooten, who was the private tutor of Huygens, translated the work as De ratiociniis in ludo aleae ("On Reasoning in Games of Chance"). The work is a systematic treatise on probability and deals with games of chance and in particular the problem of points. The modern concept of probability grew out of the use of expectation values by Huygens and Blaise Pascal (who encouraged him to write the work). The last years of Huygens, who never married, were characterized by loneliness and depression. As a rationalist, he refused to believe in an immanent supreme being, and could not accept the Christian faith of his upbringing. Although Huygens did not believe in such a supernatural being, he did hypothesize on the possibility of extraterrestrial life in his Cosmotheoros, which was published shortly before his death in 1695. He speculated that extraterrestrial life was possible on planets similar to Earth and wrote that the availability of water in liquid form was a necessity for life.
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