Mathematician Focus: Gauss

Who was Gauss and what was he famous for?

Gauss was born in the principality of Brunswick, Germany in 1777 and was one of the most influential mathematicians of the 19th century. A mathematician and physicist, Gauss made several significant contributions to many fields, such as algebra, astronomy, number theory, geodesy and geophysics to name but a few. His discoveries left a lasting mark on the world and he is still considered to be among history’s most influential mathematicians.


Born into a poor working-class family, it took Gauss’ mother and uncle to notice his genius and convince his father to let him attend school at an early age. Impressed by his knowledge, his teachers recommended him to the Duke of Brunswick who decided to assist Gauss in the financing of his education, including sending him to the University of Gottingen in 1795.

Gauss died in 1855 at the age of 77.

Did you know? 

  • His father refused to allow him to attend school as he wished for him to follow in one of the family trades, gardening or bricklaying.
  • Although he is not the first person to use complex numbers, he defined them, establishing the modern notation and application of complex numbers to solve problems in science.
  • When the Duke of Brunswick died in 1806, the financial support died Gauss was receiving stopped completely.
  • It is said that Gauss attended only one single scientific conference, in Berlin in 1828.
  • He married twice.
  • When Gauss died, he did not leave any conjectures, but instead left exercises.


  • Gauss Theorem
  • Prime number theorem
  • Golden Theorem
  • Fundamental Theorem of Algebra
  • Knot Theory


He invented the heliotrope, an instrument that uses a mirror to reflect sunlight over great distances with the purpose of marking positions in a land survey. Heliotropes were used in surveys in Germany up to the late 1980s, when GPS measurements replaced the use of the heliotrope in long distance surveys.

Some quotes from Gauss

  • “It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment.”
  • “God does arithmetic”
  • “Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes.”
  • “I am coming more and more to the conviction that the necessity of our geometry cannot be demonstrated, at least neither by, nor for, the human intellect.”

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