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Charles Babbage

Background:

Charles Babbage was born in London, England December 26, 1791. Babbage suffered from many childhood illnesses, which forced his family to send him to a clergy operated school for special care.

Babbage had the advantage of a wealthy father that wished to further his education. A stint at the Academy at Forty Hills in Middlesex began the process and created the interest in Mathematics. Babbage showed considerable talent in Mathematics, but his disdain for the Classics meant that more schooling and tutoring at home would be required before Babbage would be ready for entry to Cambridge. Babbage enjoyed reading many of the major works in math and showed a solid understanding of what theories and ideas had validity. As an undergraduate, Babbage setup a society to critique the works of the French mathematician, Lacroix, on the subject of differential and integral calculus. Finding Lacroix's work a masterpiece and showing the good sense to admit so, Babbage was asked to setup a Analytical Society that was composed of Cambridge undergraduates. The works of this group, which included John Herschel and George Peacock, were serious publications in this period, no mean feat for a group of undergraduate students, but many of the leading math scholars expressed praise for the contribution of Babbage. Charles completed his schooling and started to write papers on various subjects for the Royal Society of London, who honored him with an invitation to join and the role of vice-president. It is interesting to note that Babbage felt the society a group of stuff shirts interested in stroking their own egos at the expense of real knowledge.
Babbage became interested in Astronomy and the equipment used to study the heavens. This appears to be the time when Charles got the idea for a mechanical calculation device. Frustrated with the waste of time and money used to create logarithmic table manually, Babbage invented the Difference Machine to create these tables. The success of this endeavor led Babbage to envision a device that could perform any calculation. Dubbed the Analytical Engine, Babbage received funding from the government to turn the dream into a reality. Unfortunately, Babbage was never able to finish the project as the whims of politics and funding decisions forced the project to be dismissed after a few flawed programs were beta tested. The logic of the process and structure of the engine formed the basis of the calculation process of the modern computer.

Contributions:

Written Works:

  • A Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives (1826)

  • Table of Logarithms of the Natural Numbers from 1 to 108, 000 (1827)

  • Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830)

  • On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832)

  • Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1837)

  • Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864)

Famous Quote:

"The whole of the developments and operations of analysis are now capable of being executed by machinery. ... As soon as an Analytical Engine exists, it will necessarily guide the future course of science."

---Excerpt from the Life of a Philosopher

Recommended Reads :

Agnesi to Zeno: Over 100 Vignettes from the History of Math
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If you're fascinated or interested in biographies, you'll enjoy this collection of 'vignettes' about the many famous mathematicians. Excellent illustrations, comes complete with discussion points and blackline masters. Identifies the contributions made by the many great mathematicians throughout history. Offers suggestions for eliciting discussion. Especially useful for students in the 9th to 12th grades.

Remarkable Mathematicians: by Ioan James
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Ioan profiles 60 famous mathematicians who were born between 1700 and 1910 and provides insight to their remarkable lives and their contributions to the field of math. This text is organized chronologically and provides interesting information about the details of the mathematicians lives






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