EventsI C. F. Gauss IIIIIII Gauss-his life | Gauss-ingenious Gauss-Göttingen project observatory words of wisdomGuided Tours

Gauss - ingenious ground-breaking Achievements

Units of measurement, methods, formulae – in science, the name of the originator is given to many a process. And there can be scarcely a provider of scientific names who is encountered more frequently than Carl Friedrich Gauss. The examples range from “Gaussian distribution” to “Gaussian curve”. Gauss is amongst the most significant mathematicians the world has known, but like Archimedes, Newton and Galileo, he also made ground-breaking contributions to other disciplines.

Albert Einstein

At an early stage, he recognised: “One should not confuse that which appears to us to be improbable and unnatural with that which is absolutely impossible”. His findings in pure and applied mathematics led to numerous advances in technology and the natural sciences becoming possible. Modern computer programmes would be inconceivable without his work, as would the computation of the orbits of celestial bodies – essential today for satellite and space technology. Gauss’ optimisation of optical systems, such as the telescopes for his astronomical observations, laid the foundations for the development of the photographic lens, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, no less, has its roots in Gauss’ geometrical discoveries.

Gauss delivered his first mathematical proof at the age of 19: The constructability of a regular polygon with 17 sides. Together with his work on number theory, this first new geometrical construction since antiquity belongs to his early work. This period also saw Carl Friedrich developing the “method of least squares”. This provided him with the basis on which he could, amongst other things, participate successfully in a worldwide scientific competition. In 1801, astronomers were universally occupied with attempting to locate the lost minor planet Ceres, by means of computation of its orbit. It was Gauss who succeeded in calculating the orbit correctly and thus it was possible to rediscover the asteroid in the sky. This event at once catapulted the 24-year-old Gauss into international fame.

Albert Einstein

Gauss also opened up a new era in the science of form and size determination of the earth, geodesy. Up to this point, maps were based on estimates of distance. In 1820, George IV gave Gauss the task of carrying out arc measurement for Hanover. For five years he was travelling almost perpetually in order to cover the whole country with a coarsely meshed triangulation network starting from Göttingen (point of zero being located in the Observatory). His work initiated the new age of classical cartography.

Subsequent to this came a period of work on physical subjects. Together with Wilhelm Weber, Gauss invented the electromagnetic telegraph in 1833 and embarked on significant research concerning terrestrial magnetism. A geomagnetic observatorium – a building free of iron – was built in the garden of the existing Observatory. Gauss invented a measuring device for small magnetic fields and set up the system of electric and magnetic units that bears his name.

At this stage the Observatory became a centre of international research. Involving 53 geomagnetic observatories throughout the world, on fixed dates measurements were carried out every five minutes for a period of 24 hours according to Göttingen time, in order to examine precisely time-dependant fluctuations of the magnetic field.

In 1851, four years before his death, Gauss established one last set of scientific principles, this time in the field of actuarial mathematics. In his report for the University’s pension fund for widows, he introduced for the first time a computation of pension scheme contributions based on mortality rates and probability calculations.