Johann Bernoulli Stichting voor de Wiskunde te Groningen

Johann Bernoulli lezing 22

(maandag 28 maart 2011)

Jeremy Gray (Open University UK)

Henri Poincaré and mathematical physics one hundred years ago

Henri Poincaré spent much of his working life exploring every branch of mathematical physics, and he wrote about it at every level from the advanced research paper to the popular essay. He was involved at the very start of the move to quantum mechanics, and he famously discovered many of the key ideas in special relativity before Einstein. This talk considers how he tried to shape the mathematical physics at the start of the 20th century.

Jeremy Gray has studied mathematics at Oxford University from 1966 to 1969, and then at Warwick University, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1980 under the supervision of Ian Stewart and David Fowler. He has worked at the Open University since 1975, and has been a Professor of the History of Mathematics there since 2002. He is also an Honorary Professor in the Mathematics Department at the University of Warwick where he teaches a course in the history of mathematics. He believes strongly that the study of the history of mathematics is an important way for everyone to understand the nature of the mathematics we have, and its place and role in the intellectual and practical life of society.

He has written several books, contributed to survey volumes, and has published extensively in relevant journals. He was a consultant on the television series The story of Maths and is an editor of Archive for History of Exact Sciences. In 2010 he was awarded a grant by the Leverhulme Trust to write a scientific biography of Henri Poincaré, which has been published by Princeton University Press in 2012, the centenary of the death of Poincaré .

Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) has had a tremendous influence on the development of mathematics and mathematical physics. His work has led to fruitful fields of research, where geometry, groups and later also early traces of probability theory are effectively at work. In particular, under his influence the modern field of dynamical systems, grew out of the theory of ordinary differential equations; the inspiration came mainly from celestial mechanics. Poincaré lived in the happy days when the boundaries between mathematics and physics were still very permeable. He has made great contributions to special relativity theory and to the beginning of statistical mechanics; his celebrated recurrence principle stood at the cradle of mathematical field ergodic theory.

Laudatio: Jan van Maanen (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)