Joseph-Louis Lagrange

Joseph-Louis Lagrange

Joseph Louis Lagrange, 1736 - 1813, Turin


As a young person, Joseph was destined for the law, following the steps of his father. But then he started showing signs of mathematical ability. He was reading the works of Maria Agnesi, Johann Bernoulli, and Leonard Euler.
His formal education started when he enrolled for the College of Turin, and later the Royal Military Academy, also in Turin.

While at the academy he wrote and published a paper on number theory. It was recognized as the work of a talented mathematician and subsequently invited to Paris.

While in Paris, surrounded by internationally acknowledged mathematicians, he published remarkable and original papers on differential equations and an introduction to what would be major work on the lagrangian function. It was also the beginning of his investigations into celestial mechanics, and the propagation sound, from vibrating strings.


After returning to Turin he became dissatisfied with the conditions, and when he was invited to Berlin, to be replacing Euler who was moving to St Peterburg, he was ready to go.
During his tenure at the University of Berlin, Lagrange made significant contributions to mathematics, publishing papers on partial differential equations, number theory, and integration.
After his friend de bAlembert died, Lagrange became unsettled, and when the French envoy in Berlin suggested he move back to Paris, he was pleased to accept.

He arrived back in Paris at the start of the French Revolution, but the Academy was not subjected to the Terror. When the National Assembly asked the Academy to study and recommend a decimal system for weights and lengths, Lagrange was invited to join the commission setup.

The system that was set up established the meter to be one 10 millionth of the distance from the equator to the North Pole, along a terrestrial meridian, through Paris.
The metric for the kilogram was defined by a solid piece of cylindrical platinum.
Both those standards have since been superseded.

During his life, Lagrange was recognized as one of the greatest mathematicians, and in 1808 he was made a Dignitary of the Republic and a Grand Official of the Legion of Honor.
In the recently established Republic, he was appointed one of the Senators. And as a Senator, he recommended the annexation of Piedmont, a province of the country of his birth.

He died in 1835, and his impact on mathematics is commemorated with many statues.

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