Blaise Pascal


Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont France on June 19, 1623, and died in Paris on
Aug. 19, 1662. His father, a local judge at Clermont, and also a man with a
scientific reputation, moved the family to Paris in 1631, partly to presue his
own scientific studies, partly to carry on the education of his only son, who
had already displayed exceptional ability. Blaise was kept at home in order to
ensure his not being overworked, and it was directed that his education should
be at first confined to the study of languages, and should not include any
mathematics. Young Pascal was very curious, one day at the age of twelve while
studying with his tutor, he asked about the study of geometry. After this he
began to give up his play time to persue the study of geometry. After only a few
weeks he had mastered many properties of figures, in particular the proposition
that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. His
father noticed his sons ability in mathematics and gave him a copy of Euclids\'s
Elements, a book which Pascal read and soon mastered. At the young age of
fourteen he was admitted to the weekly meetings of Roberval, Mersenne, Mydorge,
and other French geometricians. At the age of sixteen he wrote an essay on conic
sections; and in 1641 at the age of 18 he construced the first arithmetical
machine, an instrument with metal dials on the front on which the numbers were
entered. Once the entries had been completed the answer would be displayed in
small windows on the top of the device. This device was improved eight years
later. His correspondence with Fermat about this time shows that he was then
thurning his attention to analytical geometry and physics. At this time he
repeated Torricelli\'s experiments, by which the pressure of the atmosphere could
be estimated as a weight, and he confirmed his theory of the cause of
barometrical variations by obtaining at the same instant readings at different
altitudes on the hill of Puy-de-Dôme. A strange thing about Pascal was that in
1650 he stoped all he reasearched and his favorite studies to being the study of
religion, or as he sais in his Pensees, "contemplate the greatness and the
misery of man." Also about this time he encouraged the younger of his two
sisters to enther the Port Royal society. In 1653 after the death of his father
he returned to his old studies again, and made several experiments on the
pressure exerted by gases and liquids; it wasalso about this period that he
invented the arithmetical triangle, and together with Fermat created the
calculus of probabilities. At this time he was thinking about getting married
but an accident caused him to return to his religious life.While he was driving
a four horse carrige the two lead horses ran off the bridge. The only thing that
saved him was the traces breaking. Always somewhat of a mystic, he considered
this a special summons to abandon the world of science and return to his studies
of religion. He wrote an account of the accident on a small piece of paper,
which for the rest of his life he wore next to his heart, to remind him of his
covenant. Shortly after the accident he moved to Port Royal, where he continued
to live until his death in 1662. Besides the arithmetical machine and Pascals
Theorem, Pascal also made the Arithmetical Triangle in 1653 and his work on the
theory of probabilities in 1654.

Category: Science