Friedrich Gauss, as a child prodigy and his desire to inscribe a heptadecagon on the Tombstone

Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (30 April 1777 – 23 February 1855) was a German mathematician and scientist sometimes known as "the Prince of Mathematicians". Gauss is ranked as one of history's most influential mathematicians. He referred to mathematics as "the queen of sciences.”

Gauss was a child prodigy. There are many anecdotes pertaining to his precocity while a toddler, and he made his first ground-breaking mathematical discoveries while still a teenager.

There are several stories of his early genius. According to one, his gifts became very apparent at the age of three when he corrected, mentally and without fault in his calculations, an error his father had made on paper while calculating finances.

According to one famous story, in primary school his teacher, J.G. Büttner, tried to occupy pupils by making them add a list of integers. The young Gauss reputedly produced the correct answer within seconds, to the astonishment of his teacher and his assistant Martin Bartels. Gauss's presumed method, which supposes the list of numbers was from 1 to 100, was to realise that pairwise addition of terms from opposite ends of the list yielded identical intermediate sums: 1 + 100 = 101, 2 + 99 = 101, 3 + 98 = 101, and so on, for a total sum of 50 × 101 = 5050.

While in university in 1796, Gauss was able to show that any regular polygon with a number of sides which is a Fermat prime (3, 15, 17, 257, 65537, etc.) (and, consequently, those polygons with any number of sides which is the product of distinct Fermat primes and a power of 2) can be constructed by compass and straightedge. This was a major discovery in an important field of mathematics; construction problems had occupied mathematicians since the days of the Ancient Greeks, and the discovery ultimately led Gauss to choose mathematics instead of philology as a career. Gauss was so pleased by this result that he requested that a regular heptadecagon ( a seventeen-sided polygon) be inscribed on his tombstone. The stonemason declined, stating that the difficult construction would essentially look like a circle.

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