By Jesse Bittner
For nearly all students who are enrolled in a math class, whether it may be in high school or college, one of the most useful tools for them is the calculator. Technically, the abacus was the first calculating tool invented. However, the Pascaline invented by Blaise Pascal was the first device that could perform addition and subtraction. Blaise Pascal has contributed many other works in his lifetime, too. Born on June 19, 1623 in a French city called Clermont-Ferrand, Blaise Pascal would leave a legacy of mathematical works, along with contributing to the physics and philosophy world as well. He would die on August 19, 1662.
Pascal’s mother had passed away when he was just a toddler. He was raised by his father, a tax collector, while living with three sisters. In 1631, Pascal would move At an early age of 12, Pascal created his own terminology in geometry and was able to figure out that the sum of a triangle is equal to the sum of two right angles (biography.com). By 16, Pascal had made his own theorems. One of these theorems would be the Mystic Hexagram. This theorem stated, “if any six sided, six angled figure is inscribed in any conic section, and the sides of the hexagon thus produced are projected beyond the section, the pairs of opposite sides will meet in three points all of which lie on a straight line (math.berkeley.edu).” However, Pascal was never able to prove this theorem. But, he was given the opportunity to present this theorem to other mathematicians of the time which is very impressive for being at such a young age.
In 1640, the family moved to Rouen, France where Pascal’s father was appointed to to collect taxes. In the same year Pascal moved there, he wrote an essay entirely on conic sections, which it would be his first written work. “The writings constituted an important leap forward in projective geometry, which involved transferring a 3-D object onto a 2-D field (biography.com).” The young 17 year old’s work would arouse the envy of a great French rationalist and mathematician Rene Descartes.
Shortly after Pascal’s impressive writings about conic sections from 1642 to 1644, he developed the famous Pascaline calculating device. Inspired from his father’s work, Pascal used a numerical wheel with movable dials to perform addition and subtraction. However, at the time, there was a discrepancy between French currency and the design of the Pascaline (biography.com). For the next 10 years, Pascal would design 50 more prototypes of the Pascaline to improve the quality of the device, but it would never be a big seller. On the other hand, it would inspire future inventors to design calculators.
In 1646, everything changed for Pascal and his family. His father suffered a serious injury after a fall that resulted from a fall which broke his hip. This cause Pascal and his sisters to have a change in their religious beliefs. In the past, the Pascal family did not follow Christian beliefs. But, during the injury of Pascal’s father, the family was visited by two followers of Jansenism, which is a denomination of the Catholic Church. These two men would change Pascal’s life to a devout Christian life (biography.com).
Following the events that led Pascal to Christianity, he became very involved with the physical sciences. He began to perform experiments to test Galileo’s theories along with another physicist named Evangelista Torricelli who discovered the principles of the barometer. Some of the experiments he performed led him to some findings in hydrodynamics and hydrostatics. He also, during the time, invented the syringe and the hydraulic press. Pascal’s Principle was the basis of his hydraulic press. His principle stated that, “pressure applied to a confined liquid is transmitted undiminished through the liquid in all directions regardless of the area to which the pressure is applied (britannica.com).” In 1647 to 1648 he also published a piece on the problems with the vacuum.
During this stretch of time with Pascal’s scientific achievements he became ill from overwork. From 1651 to 1654, Pascal was apparently advised by his doctors to take time off for himself to alleviate himself from his overworking. However, this did not stop Pascal. He continued to make discoveries including a piece on the equilibrium of liquid solutions, the weight and density of air, and on the arithmetic triangle. Pascal, during this time, also laid down the foundation for the calculus of probabilities.
Along with his mathematics and scientific accomplishments, Pascal also laid down a fine platform with few of his literary works. From 1657 to 1658, Pascal used a series of pseudonyms in his letters to critique a few of the Jesuits beliefs. This became a very notable piece that is called Les Provinciales. In 1657, he began to write notes that would be called Pensees. He went in depth about how a person’s position is on their faith. In this piece, he theorized that making an attempt to believe in a god is better than making no attempt. He summarized that if you die not believing in anything, and there is a divine god, your soul will now have a less chance of salvation rather than a soul who did believe in a god even if that person was unsure of his/her faith.
In Pascal’s final years, he struggled to deal with insomnia and a digestive disorder that he dealt with as a teen. It’s believed that his digestive order caused him a lot of pain throughout his entire life. Pascal’s intense working and dedication did not help his health, though. He finally died at the age of 39 on August 19, 1662 because of a stomach tumor. Although, Pascal is gone, his achievements will live on forever. Physicists and mathematicians use his findings everyday. He’s contributed many other works in his life such as Pascal’s triangle which is used quite often among mathematicians. He also invented the very first wristwatch. In attempt to build a continuous moving machine, he invented the first roulette machine. The force of a certain newton present in a surface area is a unit that we call today a Pascal. The list goes on and on from his own inventions, literary works, laws, and even units being named after him. There are many famous mathematicians and Blaise Pascal will always be remembered as one of them.
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