Niels Henrik Abel
1802-1829


Born: 5 Aug 1802 in Finnoy (an island near Stavanger), Norway
Died: 16 April 1829 in Froland, Norway

Niels Henrik Abel was born August 5th, 1802 in Finnoy Norway. He like many other famous mathematicians was dirt poor all his life. His father had a degree in theology and philosophy, and became involved in the political independence of Norway. He was also involved in writing a new constitution in 1814. However his father made false charges against some of his colleagues and this lead to the end of his political career. His father passed away in 1820. Abel was discovered to have a great knowledge of mathematics by his teacher Bernt Holmboe. After his father's death, Abel was able to attend the University of Christiania in 1821. This could have only happened due to Holboes help in obtaining a scholarship. One year after he started his studies he graduated from the University, but he had already accomplished so much.

Niels Henrik Abel had many great contributions to the evolution of mathematics. Even though Abel only lived 27 short years he had many new discoveries. At the age of 16, Abel gave a proof of the Binomial Theorem valid for all numbers not only Rationals, extending Euler's result. Next at age 19 he showed that there was not an algebraic equation for any general Polynomial of degree greater than four. To do this, he invented an important part of mathematics known as Group Theory, which is invaluable for many areas of mathematics, and physics as well. In 1823, at the age of 21, Abel published papers on functional equations and integrals. In this paper, Abel gives the first solution of an integral equation. He then proved one year later, the impossibility of solving the general equation of the fifth degree algebraically and published it at his own expense hoping to obtain recognition for his work. This did eventually help him obtain a scholarship from the Norwegian government to travel to Germany and France. He eventually would run out of money and have to go back to Norway to continue his research.

Abel's trip to Germany did however allow him to meet Crelle, who would publish the first journal entirely devoted to mathematics. In 1827 in the first volume of Crelle's Journal, Abel's work, Recherches sur les fonctions elliptiques was published. This was instrumental in establishing mathematical analysis on a rigorous basis.

After returning to Norway heavily in debt, he became very ill and was informed he had tuberculosis. Despite his bad health and poverty he continued writing papers on equation theory and elliptic functions. This continued work had major importance in the development of the whole theory of elliptic functions. Abel revolutionized the understanding of elliptic functions by studying the inverse of these functions.

Abel passed away April 6th 1829. Two days later a letter came informing him he had gotten an appointment in Berlin which would have given him a job at a University.

Contributed by Erik Sorum

References:

  1. Biography in Encyclopaedia Britannica
  2. http://history.math.csusb.edu/Mathematicians/Abel.html
  3. http://www.astro.virginia.edu/~eww6n/bios/Abel/html
  4. http://www.mathstat.usouthal.edu/~lynn/mathematics/abel.html
  5. http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Abel.html

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